Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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Reliving historic Greensboro Four sit-in

Civil rights activist Jibreel Khazan to speak at Wheaton

Jibreel Khazan, a civil rights activist and a former member of the Greensboro Four, will present a lecture at Wheaton College on Monday, Feb. 24, at 6 p.m., in the Holman Room in Mary Lyon Hall.

The Greensboro Four was a group of African American North Carolina A&T State University students who sat at the Woolworth’s department store lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., and politely requested service. It was Feb. 1, 1960, and the lunch counter’s staff maintained a policy of serving only white people.

The staff refused service and asked the students to leave. However, Khazan (at that time known as Ezell Blair, Jr.) and the students passively continued to sit at the counter until the store closed, an action that, repeated over the course of a week, eventually drew hundreds of people and the attention of the mass media.

Police who arrived on the scene were unable to arrest the participants due to the nonviolent nature of the protest. After the Greensboro sit-ins, similar protests spread rapidly throughout the American south.

Denyse Wilhelm, associate dean of studies and sophomore class dean,  invited Khazan to speak at Wheaton after having interacted with him at several community events in New Bedford, where he has lived since 1965. She said she hopes his lecture will contribute to the ongoing dialogue on campus about the need to increase understanding and acceptance of differences.

“ His proximity to Wheaton offers the campus community a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet and hear from one of four students who took action because they believed in equality,” said Wilhelm. “Many of our students are involved in activities that affect social change and are seeking inspiration to expand their efforts, both locally and globally.”

Khazan’s lecture will focus largely on the people who inspired him to take the actions he did, his concern for his family and fellow students during the sit-in, and how he felt after the event. He also plans to discuss activism and the continued work that needs to be done to promote equality around the world.

Khazan received a bachelor’s of science degree in sociology from North Carolina A&T State University and also studied at Howard University Law School, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and the New England Conservatory of Music.

Unable to find work after the sit-ins, Khazan decided to relocate to New Bedford because of its history as the place where Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery through the Underground Railroad. In 1968, Khazan joined the Islamic Center of New England and changed his name.

In addition to lecturing, he currently works as a counselor and teacher of people with developmental disabilities. He has also worked for a number of nonprofits, including the American Federation of Labor–Congress of Industrial Organizations, the largest federation of unions in the United States, where he was a programming coordinator.

Dean Wilhelm said she hopes that students will take away from the lecture “that each voice, particularly those of students, is important and can impact lasting change.”

 —Adam Kilduff '16