Civil Rights

Donald P. McCullum

Donald P. McCullum was an influential African American civil rights activist and leader who played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Born on August 17, 1935, in Kannapolis, North Carolina, McCullum grew up in Durham, North Carolina. He attended Hillside High School, where he was a talented athlete and student leader.

McCullum enrolled in North Carolina A&T State University, a historically black college in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1954. While at A&T, he became involved in civil rights activism and joined the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1960, McCullum played a key role in organizing the Greensboro sit-ins, which became one of the defining moments of the Civil Rights Movement.

Joseph McNeil (from left), Franklin McCain, Billy Smith, and Clarence Henderson sit-in protest at the whites-only lunch counter at Woolworth during the second day of peaceful protest, Feb. 2, 1960.

On February 1, 1960, McCullum and three other freshmen students, Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, and Ezell Blair Jr. (later known as Jibreel Khazan), sat down at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in downtown Greensboro and refused to leave when they were denied service because of their race. The sit-in protest soon spread throughout the South, sparking a new phase of the Civil Rights Movement.

McCullum was arrested during the Greensboro sit-ins and faced numerous other arrests and physical assaults as he continued his civil rights activism. He was a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and played a key role in organizing the Freedom Rides of 1961, which challenged segregation on interstate buses and bus stations.

In 1963, McCullum was one of the organizers of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. He also participated in numerous other civil rights protests and demonstrations throughout the South, including the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965.

After the Civil Rights Movement, McCullum became a successful businessman, owning and operating several McDonald’s franchises in Durham, North Carolina. He remained committed to civil rights and social justice throughout his life, serving on numerous boards and organizations that promoted equality and justice for all. He passed away on January 20, 2016, at the age of 80.

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