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Wilmington native discusses civil rights legacy

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A Williston graduate who became a civil rights icon returned to his alma mater today. Joseph McNeil spoke to students about the importance of education, respect, and non-violence.

McNeil was one of four college students who started a sit-in at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro 50 years ago. The sit-in was a non-violent protest that helped set in motion the civil rights movement across the country.

McNeil graduated from Williston High School in 1959. Even though the school system was segregated, McNeil says his teachers ingrained the values that helped him become a leader in the civil rights movement.

Tuesday McNeil returned to Williston to speak to almost 300 sixth graders in hopes of continuing the vision of equality and non-violence he helped start more than 50 years ago.

"We've got to learn, all of us, how to be respectful of others and to avoid things like violence," McNeil said. "It's so destructive."

McNeil, who went on to earn the rank of Major General in the Air Force and become an engineer, says the education he received at Williston helped him find the courage to lead change in the face of extreme risk. He urged students to take advantage of the same education to make a difference in their own lives and the lives of those around them.

As part of Black History Month McNeil and another member of the Greensboro 4 Dr. Franklin McCain will speak at UNCW tonight. The program is at Kenan Auditorium starting at 7 p.m. It is free and open to the public.

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