The International Civil Rights Center and Museum in downtown Greensboro has just passed a major hurdle toward becoming designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site – a classification that includes the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty as well as about two dozen other sites of “universal significance” around the country

Museum staff and others in the community have been pushing for the designation that they say would really draw attention to the museum and bring in tourists from all over the world.  A UNESCO World Heritage Site designation distinguishes places from ordinary tourist destinations and causes a lot of people to put those sites on their travel bucket lists.

A national Sit-In Movement began at the Woolworth’s building – now the museum – on Feb. 1, 1960, after four NC A&T freshmen sat at the whites-only lunch counter and were refused service.

The museum still has a lot of work to do to earn that much-coveted UNESCO designation, however, this week, backers of the plan were delighted that the project took a big step in the right direction.

Museum CEO John Swaine made the announcement in a press release on Wednesday, May 15.

“After a lengthy and rigorous process,” he wrote, “we are thrilled to share exciting news regarding the F.W. Woolworth’s building in Greensboro. We are delighted to announce that the Landmarks Committee of the National Park Service has unanimously granted approval for the advancement of our beloved building to the next decision stages of approval as a National Historic Landmark. This is the highest level of recognition for a landmark site in the United States.”

Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Skip Alston, a co-founder of the museum, was also thrilled.

“This is a great accomplishment for the museum, the city and county and North Carolina,” Alston said the day after the news was announced. “Remember that this building was scheduled to be torn down to make room for a parking lot before me and Earl Jones saved it. Look at where we are now!”

Alston said that, in the 1990s, the building was owned by a bank, which planned to tear it down until there was an effort to save it.

In the press release, Swain said the achievement was a testament to the dedication and hard work of all involved in the important task of preserving “the historical fabric and civil rights significance” of the building.

 He went on to say “The F.W. Woolworth’s landmark holds a special place in our North Carolina Triad community’s heart, symbolizing resilience, enlightenment, moderation, and a spirit of human belonging.”

 The decision by the federal committee now makes the museum eligible to be included on the Tentative List for consideration as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Alston said the museum made the application to become a World Heritage Site about seven years ago and added that the goal is still several years away.

“I think the process usually takes about 10 years,” Alston said.

 Swain said all of those people who’ve been moving the project forward need to continue to be “steadfast in our efforts” to ensure that this “site of conscience receives the recognition it deserves on the world stage.”