Recently, while attending an event at the Museum of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, where local citizens had gathered to witness the swearing in of a new chief of police, I was taken aback by a photo that appeared in one of the museum showcases. After taking a second look, I realized it was a photo of a childhood friend who was an active participant in the 60′ s Civil Rights Movement.
In view of the young black man who was being installed as the chief of police, my mind raced back instantly to the sacrifices made by the young men and women who made it possible for African Americans like the new chief of police to serve in such an honorable position. Now 50 years later, there was this uncanny reminder of my friend and neighbor, Charles Allen “Shane” McNeill, a native Fayettevillian, who was born and raised in the College Heights section of Fayetteville, North Carolina.
A multi-talented individual, Charles attended Newbold Training School located on the campus of Fayetteville State Teacher College, known today as Fayetteville State University. Later he attended E. E. Smith High School, where he played varsity football and basketball for three years and sang in the choir. He was also an active member of the E. E. Smith High School debate and drama clubs. Charles participated in the College Heights Recreation League, and played softball, baseball, and football under the supervision of Arthur “Monk” Smith, a Fayetteville icon. Upon graduation from high school, Charles attended Johnson C. Smith College in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he majored in political science with aspirations of becoming a lawyer. He lettered in football for three years. It was at J.C. Smith that he began his civil rights crusade, along with thousands of other college students nationwide.
Unlike Rosa Parks who has been honored for her role in the Montgomery, Alabama Bus Boycott; the “Greensboro Four,” students at North Carolina A & T State University who have been noted for pioneering sit-ins at the Woolworth Department Store in Greensboro, North Carolina; and the nine African-American students in Little Rock, Arkansas who received recognition for the integration of Little Rock High School in 1957, Charles Allen McNeill was under the radar for his civil rights activism. But, he did indeed play a significant price for his involvement in the lunch counter sit-ins, which included an unfortunate incident with a police officer that struck him on the head causing severe physical and mental damage that lasted him a lifetime, all caused by an accusation that he pushed a white woman who spat on him. With this life-changing event, Charles had to leave college needing only 12 credits to graduate. Fortunately, for many, his simple acts of civil disobedience helped redefine racial equality in America, but for Charles, unfortunately, his acts of courage negatively affected his life forever.
During this year of reflection on some of the important events of the Civil Rights Movement, I am pleased to have been reacquainted through a photographic memory of my friend, Charles Allen McNeill, who passed away in 2003. Free at last! •