Sixty years ago, Clarence Henderson was among the 20 demonstrators who participated in the second day of sit-ins at a racially segregated department store in Greensboro.
Orchestrated by four students at North Carolina A&T State University, the sit-ins were a watershed for the Civil Rights movement. Addressing a crowd of nearly 250 people Thursday at The Fair Barn in Pinehurst, Henderson said the peaceful protest was a “shot heard around the world.”
“I was all of 18 years of age, and my parents knew about it after the fact,” he recalled of joining the lunch counter sit-in, adding that he chose to participate “so all could eat in the same place.”
Henderson said he was not publicly recognized for his role in the demonstration until the early 2000s, when a newspaper misidentified him in the caption for a photograph made at the Woolworth store where the sit-ins took place.
“They had the wrong name on the picture,” Henderson said. “I never murmured or complained, because I knew that I was there.”
Thursday’s event was organized by the Moore County GOP, and the audience included several rivals in the upcoming Republican primary elections. Henderson, who has delivered multiple invocations for President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, said he has received criticism for his support of the administration.
The septuagenarian did not mince words during his 40-minute presentation. He derided the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBTQ people, the news media, the public education system, climate change activists, Trump’s impeachment trial and socialism, which he said “can in a way be worse than segregation.”
“They put you in classes,” he said. “And whatever class you’re in, that’s where you remain.”
During his wide-ranging address, Henderson praised law enforcers, military personnel and “free-market capitalism.” He said his father, a sharecropper-turned-mechanic with a “third-grade education,” was his hero.
“When he left the farm, he never worked for anybody but himself,” Henderson said. “I have seen times when the dealerships in Greensboro would bring cars to him that their guys couldn’t fix, and he never took one class.”
An army veteran, Henderson served as chairman of the North Carolina Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission under former Gov. Pat McCrory. Henderson’s address included several references to the Civil Rights icon, whose life will be celebrated across the U.S. on Monday.