Ralph Johns is a former Greensboro businessman who was a pioneering civil rights leader in the 1950s. His actions helped lead to the Greensboro sit-ins, which were one of the first acts of a civil rights movement that would later take shape across the United States.
On February 1, 1960, four students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University sat down at the white-only lunch counter at Woolworth’s in downtown Greensboro. They were dubbed the Greensboro Four.
Early Life and Education
Ralph Johns was a businessman who was known for his support of civil rights. He was also a staunch critic of racism.
During the early 1960s, he was a fixture in Greensboro. His shop, Johns’ Store, catered largely to black customers.
As a student, Johns became active in the local NAACP. He was a vocal supporter of school desegregation and wrote an influential column for the Champion newspaper.
A year later, four students, Ezell Blair, Joseph McNeil, James Richmond and Michael Taylor, began a strike over the shoddy conditions at their school, Moton High School. The students called on Johns to help them stage their first sit-in.
Robinson and Hill agreed to meet with the students if they were willing to commit to a lawsuit aimed at school desegregation. After the meeting, Robinson filed a case, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, that would eventually become part of Brown v. Board of Education in 1966.
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Achievements and Honors
Ralph Johns received many honors throughout his life. He was the first in his family to go to college, and he went on to become an architect.
He also made a significant contribution to the civil rights movement. He was the one who helped lead a sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina.
In addition to this, he was a prominent writer and was responsible for the novel ‘Invisible Man’. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and received several awards.
He was a proud alumnus of the University of Illinois and had a great love for the campus. He also served as a trustee for the university and was a key figure in fundraising efforts for various projects. He was also a great family man and loved spending time with his children.
A flamboyant, impulsive, colorful, star-crossed entrepreneur with a complicated mix of idealism, religious faith, selflessness and selfishness, Ralph Johns is a fascinating figure in the history of civil rights. But few people know him or his contribution to the movement, especially after he went broke and left Greensboro for Los Angeles decades ago.
It’s a shame, too. He would have benefited from the fame and glory that eventually followed other people who helped shape the modern era of American civil rights. But his obscurity seems to stem from a number of factors, including his choice to remain in the background at the time of the Greensboro sit-ins, fearing that involvement could have jeopardized his family’s safety and security.
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