January 27, 2009
Joseph McNeil, Civil Rights Trail
Blazer, Inspires St. John’s Community with Address During Founder’s
“Something had to be done and the time was right for bold
action,” said Joseph A. McNeil LL.D., an important figure in U.S.
civil rights history who spoke yesterday at St. John’s University
about his well documented 1960 sit-in at an F.W. Woolworth lunch
counter in Greensboro, North Carolina that only served “whites.”
The retired Major General in the Air Force Reserves and the Federal
Aviation Administration recounted the mood and volatility of the
times in a poignant speech of hope and inspiration as a featured
guest at the school’s 15th Annual Founder’s Week Celebration before
a crowd of 200 St. John’s students, faculty and administrators in
the University’s Little Theatre on the Queens Campus.
His presentation, “Transformation: Vision and Values,” began with a
seven minute WNBC-TV video recounting the incident (February 1,
1960) that involved he and three African-American college
acquaintances forever known as the “Greensboro Four.” Their efforts
on that fateful day would help change American civil rights history
forever in the segregated South.
Mr. McNeil will also participate in the St. John’s Staten Island
Campus Founder’s Week Celebration with a lecture today at 11:00
a.m. in the University’s Kelleher Center.
“We had no idea at the time that our small act of defiance in
taking a non-violent stand would turn into a movement that would
spread to thousands of people throughout the South,” recalled Mr.
Gen. McNeil’s historic protest came as a young 17 year-old freshman
at North Carolina A&T State University, and grew across the
South like a wildfire. What began as group of four swelled to
75,000 students who participated in staged demonstrations in 54
cities across the South. This group became known as the
Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Martin
Luther King, Jr. called the sit-ins a “turning point” in civil
“One of Dr. King’s quotes also rings true to me when I speak on
this topic and that is, ‘Injustice anywhere is injustice
everywhere.’” added Mr. McNeil.
After graduation, Mr. McNeil went on to have a distinguished career
within the Air Force branch of the United States
military. He has received major awards and
decorations during his time of service including the Combat
Readiness Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Humanitarian
Service Medal, and the Vietnam Service Medal with Silver Star just
to name a few.
He currently serves as a member of the Advisory Board for St.
John’s University College of Pharmacy and Allied Health
Professions, and received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from
St. John’s University in 1998.
“I attended a fourth grade Black History Month presentation at my
son Matthew’s elementary school some years ago and was overwhelmed
by the keynote speaker on that day,” said Robert Mangione, R.Ph,
Ed.D, Dean of the St. John’s University College of Pharmacy and
Allied Health Professions. “It was Maj. General McNeil and ever
since that day we have become good friends. He is a great source of
advice and council to our Board and to me personally.”
Founder’s Week is an opportunity for the University community to
deepen its understanding and commitment to the Vincentian mission
and tradition of St. John’s University. The theme for the 15th
annual celebration is “Vincentian Transformation: Changing
HEARTS; Creating PEACE. Special events and activities are
scheduled from January 25th-February 4th at the University’s
Queens, Staten Island, Manhattan, Oakdale, Rome, Italy and Paris,
France campus locations. A complete calendar of events for
Founder’s Week at St. John’s can be found by visiting the
University website at www.stjohns.edu/foundersweek.
For more information on this event and Founder’s Week please
contact Mary Ann Dantuono, Associate Director for the Vincentian
Center for Church and Society, by calling (718) 990-6758 or by
e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Media inquires can be directed to Dominic Scianna, Assistant Vice
President for Media Relations at St. John’s, by calling (718)
990-6185 or by email at email@example.com.
For more information on St. John's please visit the University
website at www.stjohns.edu/news.