Civil Rights activist reaccounts life experiences

A retired Major General in the Air Force Reserves and the Federal Aviation Administration shared his experiences from the Civil Rights Movement with students this week.

Joseph A. McNeil, LL.D. Hon. presented “Transformation: Vision and Values” on Monday, Jan. 26 at 4:30 p.m. in the Little Theater as part of the University’s 15th annual Founder’s Week.

McNeil was involved with the United States Air Force and was the mobilization assistant to the commander. He was a graduate of the ROTC program at North Carolina A&T and upon graduation in 1963 he entered the U.S. Air Force as a second lieutenant. McNeil also spent a considerable time flying in Southeast Asia as a participant in Young Tiger missions.

“I think our actions in the Civil Rights Movement helped make us better Americans,” he said. “It helped us end prejudice.”

McNeil recounted one of his first experiences getting involved in the civil rights movement, which took place during his time as a student at North Carolina A&T State University. McNeil and three of his friends planned a “sit-in” at a Woolworth’s lunch counter because at the time the Woolworth’s lunch counter only served to whites, even though blacks could shop in the store.

“The beauty of it was that young people pulled this off,” he said.

McNeil connected the work done during the Civil Rights Movement to St. Vincent de Paul, who is celebrated during Founder’s Week.

“We didn’t realize it at the time that we were embracing Vincentian principles of giving,” he said. “The Civil Rights Movement [taught] us to be tolerant of others. Our diversity is our strength.”
McNeil also emphasized the importance of teamwork and cooperation.

“We had leaders from everywhere,” he said. “You could take out one or two of us and we’d still have the movement.”

Students reacted positively to the presentation.

“I liked how he connected [the Civil Rights Movement] to the current problems in the world,” said John Firzgoff, a junior.

Another student, senior Keri Lee, felt similarly.

“I thought it was going to be a military presentation, I really liked it,” she said. “Hearing about his struggles made me appreciate my life much more.”