Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County to begin fundraising for Major General Joseph McNeil Statue

Kiley Woods, Contributing Writer

This article was updated on Feb. 13 2021 to include a link to the donation fund started by the Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County.

On Feb. 1, 1960, a man from Wilmington named Major General Joseph McNeil changed the course of history. Now, on the Feb. 1, 2021, exactly 61 years later, a fundraiser begins to raise money to build a bronze statue that will honor him.

McNeil was one of the “Greensboro Four“—a group of four students from A&T University who walked into Woolworth’s restaurant in Greensboro, North Carolina for lunch on Feb. 1, 1960, despite the restaurants policy to only serve white costumers.

The four sat at the counter anyway and politely asked to be served, lighting the way for a nationwide sit-in movement that spanned 13 states. This peaceful act of protest eventually led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which outlawed racial segregation.

“The statue is one way to hail the contributions of a hometown hero, whose valor had such tremendous impact in our lifetime, by providing visual context for his lasting achievements,” Rhonda Bellamy, the executive director of the Arts Council of Wilmington said.

Despite the particulars of the statue being unknown, Bellamy says the Arts Council hopes for, at the very least, a 10-foot bronze statue in McNeil’s likeness near the Maj. Gen. Joseph McNeil Commemorative Way in downtown Wilmington.

To contribute to the donation effort, click here.

“In researching the best way to commemorate his legacy,” Bellamy said, “we consulted with Carolina Bronze Foundry which created the four-person statue on the campus of North Carolina A&T where the Greensboro Four attended.”

Major General McNeil graduated from Williston Senior High School in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1959, 12 years before the high school was closed. After high school, he went to North Carolina’s A&T University, a public research university in Greensboro, North Carolina which was built on a Black land grant. McNeil graduated from North Carolina’s A&T with a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics and joined the air force.

The civil rights movement in Wilmington, North Carolina began in the 1960s and continued throughout the 1970s. Five statues throughout North Carolina have been built throughout history to remember and bring awareness to the efforts of integration and freedom.

These statues carry their own stories of civil rights movements with one statue in Wilmington that commemorates early efforts of desegregation in the town. The Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County have begun to raise money to build a statue of Major General Joseph McNeil.

The 1989 Memorial is another monument that stands in Wilmington as a place of remembrance and appreciation of Black History. The installation features six paddles and a short wall in front of the memorial. These paddles were carved as a symbol of the spiritual meaning of water.

“For many, many years the monuments in downtown Wilmington celebrated individuals who fought to defend the institution of slavery,” Dr. Gilsofi, an associate professor of American Southern history at UNCW said, “these have been taken down in the wake of George Floyd’s death.  We are now witnessing progress.  Wilmingtonians now will honor General McNeil a true freedom fighter. Young children will now walk-through downtown Wilmington and will understand that our community honors democracy, freedom and social justice.”

Once the Maj. Gen. McNeil statue is finished, it will be one of the only monuments in Wilmington that remembers the 1960s in this coastal southern town.