BY LINDA PEARCE THOMAS, CONTRIBUTING WRITER TO THE WILMINGTON JOURNAL
Last Thursday, the Wilmington City Council unanimously approved a resolution for an honorary designation of North 3rd Street as Maj Gen Joseph McNeil Way. This designation will appear on street signs from Davis Street to Market Street. As the gateway to our city, it is a very visible move by City Council to honor McNeil, a native son of Wilmington.
The City Council is, also, unanimously requesting that the North Carolina Department of Transportation Board of Directors, further, continue the honorary designation from Market Street south to Burnett Blvd., the end of 3rd Street in town. There will be designating signs on each end of 3rd Street and a plaque will be erected as well.
Born in 1942, Major General McNeil was an outstanding student at Williston Senior High School, the former segregated Senior High School for blacks in New Hanover County. He graduated with the Class of 1959 and received a full scholarship to what is now A&T State University.
It is there on February 1, 1960 that he spearheaded a sit-down at the local F.W. Woolworth Co. store in Greensboro soliciting the involvement of his roommate and two other freshmen. They were refused service after making purchases at the store. They continued their sit-in for months with other students joining in. It was the start of a national nonviolent movement. After several months, the Woolworth Manager had some black employees change clothes at the end of their shift and sit at the counter to be served. The store had been losing money because customers were reluctant to shop there because of the sit-down which grew expeditiously.
McNeil earned his degree in physics and went on to get a lieutenant commission through the Air Force ROTC. He is the recipient of numerous medals, mainly because of his outstanding service as a navigator on a tanker plane. After serving in active duty, McNeil continued his military experience in the reserves and went on to earn the rank of Major General. He also was a Deputy Director of the Federal Aviation Administration.
The ceremony to honor him is being planned for Saturday, October 12, 2019 at 11:00 a.m. outside Thalian Hall. Coincidentally, it occurs during the 60th reunion of his Williston class.
Major General Joseph McNeil is a national treasure and a civil rights hero. We are proud that he grew up here in Wilmington and look forward to this long overdue honor.