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The African American civil rights leader who helped launch sit-in protests against whites-only policies at lunch counters in the in the South, Franklin McCain, has died at the age of 73, his alma mater and family said Friday.

McCain and three classmates at North Carolina A&T State University were dubbed the “Greensboro Four” after they staged a peaceful protest at the F. W. Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., in the winter of 1960. The practice of student sit-ins spread across hundreds of U.S. cities.

F.W. Woolworth ended their discriminatory practices in the summer of 1960, and the building that once housed the store was transformed into the International Civil Rights Center and Museum.

McCain said "sitting on that dumb stool" was "the best feeling of my life," in a 2010 interview with The Associated Press.

From there, McCain participated in negotiations between student protestors, graduated with a degree in chemistry and biology and continued to serve in various civic activities including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

McCain died on Thursday after a “brief illness,” according to North Carolina A&T.

“His contributions to this university, the city of Greensboro and the nation as a civil rights leader are without measure,” said North Carolina A&T Chancellor Harold L. Martin Sr.

McCain is survived by his three sons and six grandchildren. His wife, Bettye Davis — who was also active in civil rights demonstrations — died last January.

“We will forever treasure the wonderful memories that we have and be thankful for all that he did for us and for his fellow man," McCain’s family said in a statement.