The man who stood up by sitting down

Jibreel Khazan, left, and Franklin McCain hug during the opening of an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in 1995  They joined Joseph McNeil to commemorate their sit-in at the Woolworth's lunch counter in 1960.  AP Photo/Tyler Mallory

There aren’t many people who have changed the course of history just by sitting down and asking for a cup of coffee.

One who did — Franklin McCain — has died at 72 years old, it was announced today.

McCain and three college classmates were the first African-Americans to sit down at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., and ask to be treated like any other customer. Within a short time of their 1960 act of defiance, their protest had spread around the country.

“Some way through, an old white lady, who must have been 75 or 85, came over and put her hands on my shoulders and said: ‘Boys I am so proud of you. You should have done this 10 years ago,'” he recalled in a 1990 speech.

The lunch counter is an exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington.