WFMY News 2’s Erica Stapleton sat down with Frank McCain, Jr. to talk about the NFL kneeling protests. He’s the son of Franklin McCain, one of the Greensboro Four, who was one of four North Carolina A&T students who first sat at the whites-only Woolworth’s lunch counter in downtown Greensboro demanding equality during the Civil Rights Movement.
ES: What do you make about the protests of the National Anthem we’re seeing during the NFL games?
FM: It’s an interesting question and I know it’s one that’s been on everyone’s mind here lately. I believe in the constitution, I believe in the Declaration of Independence, although when written, they were not necessarily written for people who look like me, they do, at this time, apply to me. It applies to every human being in this country. I think that people need to respect that and understand it. And when I say understand it I mean that I think people should be allowed to say what they want and write what they want and to protest things they don’t necessarily agree with in a peaceful way. So, I see absolutely nothing wrong with what’s going on today with our NFL and I actually applaud Kaepernick for stepping out there on his own and getting this movement started.
ES: What do you think of the message that there are social injustices they’re hoping to change? Do you think that is something that’s happening in our society right now?
FM: I think that’s part of the problem. I think the message is being lost. It seems like the message is being twisted a little. I would look at it this way: I’m a father and any parent, a mother or a father who has a child they might see on national television on day being assaulted, beaten up, or killed. See it on video. Right there for everyone to see. There’s no need for interpretation. The pictures and the video speaks for themselves. And the person who assaults your child or kills your child may or may not go to court and if they go to court, perhaps they’re found not guilty. I don’t think that sits well with any parent no matter what color you are and I don’t know how anyone could think that’s right, or that’s fair to just sit on the sidelines and just continue to let that thing happen. Something has to happen. There has to be some type of protest. I do not believe in violence, I’ve said that for years and years and years, but I also don’t believe you have to sit on the sidelines and let this keep happening over and over and over, because if you do, one day it could affect your household directly. And I don’t think any of us want to feel like some of the parents are feeling that have had children who have been killed – I’ll call them innocent victims.
ES: You understand just how powerful protesting can be. Your father was huge in the Civil Rights Movement decades ago. Growing up with that kind of model for yourself – how affective do you think protests can actually be?
FM: I think protest is very effective. You’ve got this situation whether you agree with what’s happening or not, it’s an effective form of protest because we’re talking about it today. Everybody’s talking about it. People in my office are talking about it. My friends are talking about it. So, it’s working. The protest is working. I think again what’s happening is the real message, or the intent of that protest is being lost. So, I think we need to sort of circle back around again and remind ourselves why this is happening in the first place. Why are these protests taking place? It’s not to say that I don’t appreciate the American flag or I don’t honor our people serving in our armed forces or veterans. It’s not saying that at all. What it’s saying is the national anthem should represent and does represent all people in this country so that everyone should be treated equally. So that there would be no social injustices, no criminal injustices, no economic injustices. That’s not happening. 28:06 And so I think in order to get people’s attention, the NFL players have a national platform. And they are an All-American sport. Everybody’s watching. Everyone’s paying attention. Who better than to protest and bring these issues to light than people who are on television entertaining us on Sunday afternoons?
ES: What’s changed from Civil Rights movement of your father’s age to now?
FM: That’s a loaded question. I think my response would be, yes there are some changes obviously, because during the time that my father and the other three gentleman sat down at Woolworth’s it was really about desegregating public eating places. We all now can go to any restaurant we want to and eat and we can and stay at any hotel we want to stay in so there has been some progress. But what I referred to this as a couple years ago talking to a group of people – I said it’s the same book, same content within the book, but just a different cover. And so, the cover now is in the form of people who are in high places, who supposedly represent all people who feel that it’s appropriate now to speak what’s on their mind in a way that creates a level of divisiveness, fear, name-calling. Things that do not build bridges. Things that do not make people want to get on board with your message. Things that quite frankly make you pause and say what in the hell is going on?
ES: One could argue that any form of protest could be divisive.
FM: You’re right. Any form of protest can be divisive. So, I live by the premise that everyone on this Earth was put here for a reason and what we owe to one another is respect and common decency. So, I don’t see respect and common decency in violent protests. I think there’s no way we could say that that’s what that is. But in peaceful protests, if we really sit back and listen to the opposing views, whether we end up at the end agreeing or not, we owe it to ourselves and we owe it to them to be respectful and be receptive to what people’s concerns are. Often times, the things that we’ve seen happen to families around this country, to communities around this country. If we were to put ourselves in that situation, just be totally blind to the people you see on the news and the people you see this happening to. Imagine this is you, your mother, your father, your wife, your husband, your son, your daughter. You can’t tell me that you can’t find some injustices, a lot of injustices happening around our country right now. The only way to make change is to be vocal and to make a statement in some form or fashion and this is all that’s happening now. People are making statements. What you’re seeing is in the words of Fannie Lou Hamer, I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. People are sick and tired of these types of things happening and nothing being done to improve it. And quite frankly, what I see now, what I’m very scared of is that we are going back in time instead of progressing and going forward. We’ve got some real serious issues in this country that I think need to be addressed. No longer should any of us – white, black, Hispanic, Native American – none of us should be silent to any type of injustices we see. Period. That’s the bottom line.
ES: Why do you think we’re going backwards instead of forward?
FM: I think we’re going backwards because we have leaders who are telling us it’s okay for people to ridicule, to discriminate, to take forceful actions against people who have opposing views. And that’s not what a leader is supposed to do. Leaders are elected by the people and the people are all of us. And so, what leaders are supposed to do are to fill a void. They’re supposed to tread the water and be able to see both sides and bring people together. They’re supposed to unify a nation, unify a city, unify a state. Leaders are supposed to try to understand the issues on both sides. And find that common ground in the middle. But when you’re a leader and you’re extreme left or you’re extreme right and you’ve made a decision that you’re not going to budge, then that’s a problem. And that creates this tension, this elastic band and you can stretch it and you can stretch it and you can stretch it and you can stretch it but eventually that band is going to burst. It’s going to pop. And when it pops it’s going to be hell here on Earth and so we don’t want that. That’s not what we want. We need leaders that can bring that band back in. Let it not have to stretch as far as I just described. Bring it back it to where we can sit face to face like common decent people and have conversations and come up with solutions. Have some level of understanding and compassion to what people are feeling and what people are experiencing in their day to day lives. I don’t think that’s what’s happening.
ES: How would you compare the social climate when you were growing up to the social climate right now?
FM: It’s funny you would say that. I was talking to a couple high school classmates of mine a couple weeks ago and I graduated several years ago back in the 80s and I remember, one of the things that happened back at my high school, back in the 80s, was that we would have a black homecoming queen and a white homecoming queen. When I was in high school I didn’t necessarily see anything wrong with it because that’s just the way it was. Now, 2017, I can look at that situation as what it really was. It was discrimination. Basically, what it was saying was that you can’t have a black queen who represents the entire student body and you can’t have a white queen that represents the entire student body. You’ve got to have one of each. How ridiculous is that? That’s absolutely absurd. That is absurd! So, I look at my own children who don’t see color, thank God, that they don’t see color. What they see is they see people for what they are and for what they demonstrated themselves to be. Now, there are good people that are white or black and there are bad people that are white or black. And I think you leave it to your own interpretation the types of people you want to be affiliated with and to spend your time with and to align yourself with so to speak. It’s different, but yet the same. Because the example I just gave you there are examples just like that in this modern day time. So, it’s not a big difference. It’s really not a huge difference.
ES: What are some of those examples?
FM: You could look at the issue around. I hate to say this but you could look at our public school systems. You can look at our 16-system university system. You can see why disparages and the amount of money that’s invested in schools and in people based on who goes to those schools. The poor who don’t always have someone at the table who will speak up for them to say what they need and to advocate on their behalves, oftentimes still get kind of left out or shortchanged. So, if you look at our university system for example, I think we all know that the dynamics of that governing body, the body has changed and a lot of those schools, especially the historically black universities, historically black colleges and universities, are not getting, in my opinion, their fair share of resources that are allocated in that process in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Has it gotten better? Yes, it has. But there are still some people who don’t believe that there is value in a university that supports people of color in a way that cannot be done at a majority institution because they don’t believe in that regardless of the great outcomes, the return on investments that they see from the students that graduated from these universities. They’ve made a decision that we don’t want to invest in those schools at the same rate we invest in larger universities in our system. And I don’t think that’s right. That’s not fair. So, we need people to be able to call it what it is, whatever that might be, and it could be one thing, it could be two things, it could be three things. It could be a lack of understanding. It could be that people just frankly don’t care or there could be some type of racial divide. Or maybe it could be all three. Or maybe it’s a combination of two or three other things I didn’t name.
ES: What are some things you learned from your father when it comes to standing up for what you believe in?
FM: I tell people my father was probably the most brilliant man that I have ever known and the thing that he taught me and my brothers are that any type of injustice, no matter what it is – if it’s in our early years, bullying – any type of injustice is not for you to sit on the sidelines and complain about it. It’s your responsibility to take action. And he’s always said you can’t wait on the masses because the masses won’t come. And what he meant by that was sometimes you have to step out there on your own but he always told us that regardless of what he believed or what my mother believed we really need to act in accordance to what our beliefs were. His job was to instill in us a sense of presence, a sense of determination, a sense of vision, but it’s up to us to make our own decisions on how we want to approach our lives and how involved and engaged we want to be and what we want to be engaged in. What he had done is what he had done and he’d done that for us and for his grandchildren and for everyone else out here in society. But what we were to do was left up to us. So, we all have found our own way of being engaged in the communities in which we’ve lived and it does not always require us to be in front of the camera. It doesn’t always require us to be on the front lines. A lot of time you can influence change by doing the things that I talked about earlier which is to listen, to be a listening ear, to try to be a voice of reason, to try to make sure you understand issues, and try to be in a position where you can influence change.
ES: At that time there was a lot of tension around what was happening, but when things became desegregated it seemed that some of those tensions were eased for some people. Now we’re seeing that same sort of tension on a lot of different sides coming out of this national anthem protest. How do you think those tensions will be eased?
FM: Unfortunately, we have very short memories I think and I think our short memory has allowed us to get to this place where we are today. A nation that is divided. What I’m hoping is that because these brave men who happen to play in the NFL have decided that enough is enough, that we are in a position. We’re the role models. Everyone always talks about how athletes are role models. So, the next generation, the young generation, they’re looking. They’re paying attention. Because these guys who play ball on Friday are their role models. And so, I’m hopeful that there’s some little Johnny or maybe even some little Betty who is sitting at home who is 12, 13 years old right now, who is paying attention to what is going on, who is asking the right questions of their parents, doing some reading of their own and we’ll position themselves someday to be good voices of reason to be solid, bridge building leaders one day. People who are understanding of what really makes America great, which is the diversity of this country, our values, our respect that we should have for one another. And being a land of true opportunity for everyone. For everyone. That’s really all these guys are saying is that look – we just want a level playing field and I’m glad what we’re seeing is a diverse field of players who have decided to protest in a peaceful way. I think we can learn something from them. I really think we can.
ES: When you say short memory – do you mean people aren’t necessarily remembering what happened with certain movements and what it took to get from one point in time to another?
FM: That’s exactly what I mean. If you look at someone who is 26 years, maybe even 30 years or younger, they could tell you very little about the civil rights movement. They could tell you very little about the women’s rights movements. They don’t know anything about it. All they know is that when they came along, that they were able to eat wherever they wanted to eat, they were able to sleep wherever they wanted to sleep in whatever city they traveled in, they were able to go to whatever school they wanted to go. So, they didn’t have a lot of the barriers that existed years ago. That’s a good thing, but it’s not good that people don’t know that there was a time when they would not have had the options they currently have. When I heard a young person now tells me I didn’t go vote because I didn’t like candidates, I’m baffled by that. People died so that you could have the right to vote. And for you to be okay with the fact that you didn’t go vote because you didn’t go vote – I think that it was Oprah Winfrey that said that, they’re not coming to your house to have dinner on Sunday, neither one of them. So, you don’t have to like them. But you’ve got to vote for somebody because one of these people is going to be your president. So, I’m talking about the presidential election. That’s crazy! That’s ridiculous. So, we have to teach our children that we have a responsibility. This is the next generation that we’re going to depend on to help run our country. But if they don’t understand just the basic principle of the importance of going to vote, then we really are in danger. We really and truly are. And we all have a responsibility to try to turn that riptide right now if we can and I think that’s where we are. I really think that’s where we are.
ES: 50 years from now – these demonstrations that we’re seeing today – how do you think they’ll be viewed by society at that point in time?
FM: Well, I really don’t have a clue, but if I were a betting man, I would say that people are going to look at this time in our history and say what in the hell are they doing? Were they straight-up crazy or what? Because there’s no way that a lot of what we’re seeing today is a lot of what any of us could ever have expected. Never in a million years. How do we get a point or to a place where it’s acceptable for anyone to minimize and demoralize the importance and the presence of women in our community. How do we get to the place where a national leader sees it as being okay to refer to anyone as an “SOB”? I don’t know where you’re from, but where I’m from, if you talk about my mother being a “B,” then that’s an issue, that’s a problem. From that point on we don’t have a whole lot to talk about. And so, the fact that people heard this and are reacting to it in a way that we’re seeing today, it’s not surprising. It’s not surprising at all. And what we really need to be angry about and what people are upset about is that things like that are happening. No grown man or woman wants to be talked to or should be talked to in that way. That shows no level of respect at all. And it should not be tolerated. So, again, I applaud the young men who play football on Sunday afternoons in the football league and hopefully these athletes cold teach our politicians and people who are looking at them on Sunday what it’s really like to stand in unity. And to be a team. And to make a positive statement. And to represent our country in a way in which we all want it to be represented, which is a place where there is liberty, justice and freedom and acceptance of all.
ES: Do you think it’s possible to get to a point of mutual respect, no matter what side you believe in or what your beliefs are?
FM: Yes, I do believe. I don’t think we’ll ever live in a society where there won’t be any injustices at all. I do think we can get to a place though where things are not as easily accepted as they are today. People call things for what they are and don’t necessarily try to dress them up. I think that with the changing of our demographics in this country, the majority is sometimes now becoming the minority and the minority is now becoming the majority. I think those types of changes will help bring us to a place, at least I hope it will, to a place where people don’t see skin color. Where people don’t see themselves being superior to a group because of their economic status. I really want us to get to a place where all of us will look at people as being people…I want us to see people as being people and not enter into situations with preconceived prejudices. That’s what’s happening now and that’s not the right thing and I do believe this next generation will provide us a level of hope for that to be able to happen.