By Ashlea Kosikowski | February 1, 2021 at 5:38 PM EST – Updated February 1 at 11:52 PM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – A fundraiser is underway to honor civil rights pioneer Major General Joseph McNeil, a Wilmington native, with a life-sized bronze statue.
“With so much attention being paid, particularly in 2020, to historic statuary and what that represents to a community, we have the opportunity to fast forward a couple centuries and actually really showcase a person who has made such a big difference in our own lifetimes,” said Rhonda Bellamy, the executive director of the Arts Council.
Maj. Gen. McNeil was one of the “Greensboro Four.” On February 1, 1960, the four men, all students at North Carolina A&T, asked to be served while seated at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in downtown Greensboro, challenging to the store’s policy that denied service to non-white customers. When they were refused service, the men remained in their seats.
Their act of peaceful protest inspired a sit-in movement that spread throughout the U.S. and eventually led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed racial segregation.
Bellamy said the statue will cost $100,000.
Joe Finley, co-founder of Wilmington-based CastleBranch, created a $5,000 challenge pledge for this project.
The Carolina Bronze Foundry, which also created NC A&T’s monument of the Greensboro Four, will create the McNeil statue.
To donate to the effort, click here.
Maj. Gen. McNeil graduated from Wilmington’s Williston Senior High School in 1959. On a full scholarship, he went to North Carolina A&T University, where he earned a degree in engineering physics.
He went on to serve in the U.S. Air Force, where he was awarded the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal upon his retirement following 37 years of service.
McNeil, who now lives in New York, holds four honorary doctorates from NC A&T, St. John’s University, the University of North Carolina Wilmington and Molloy College.
“We want to be able, in his hometown, to help showcase what he has done for this country, not just the city of Wilmington and not just the city of Greensboro, but for this country,” said Bellamy.
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