Mr. McCain was one of the so-called Greensboro Four, who sat down at lunch counter stools at an F. W. Woolworth store on Feb. 1, 1960, fully expecting that they would not be served. When they were not, they came back the next day, and the next, and the next.
As word of the protest spread, others, in ever-growing numbers, joined them. By the end of the fifth day, more than a thousand had arrived. And on July 25, the store relented and made the lunch counter available to all.
The next afternoon, they walked a mile to the Woolworth at Elm and Market Streets, arriving about 3:20. They bought some school supplies and waited for their receipts as proof of purchase. They later recalled chafing at how eagerly the store had taken their money for merchandise while refusing it at the lunch counter, directing them instead to a basement hot dog stand.
“We wonder why you invite us in to serve us at one counter and deny service at another,” Mr. McCain recalled saying. “If this is a private club or private concern, then we believe you ought to sell membership cards and sell only to persons who have a membership card. If we don’t have a card, then we’d know pretty well that we shouldn’t come in or even attempt to come in.”
That, he recounted, “didn’t go over too well.” But as he sat waiting for a doughnut that he knew would never come, Mr. McCain felt oddly empowered.
“The best feeling of my life,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press in 2010, was “sitting on that dumb stool.”
“I felt so relieved,” he continued. “Nothing has ever happened to me before or since that topped that good feeling of being clean and fully accepted and feeling proud of me.”