Wilson Library looks back at desegregation in Chapel Hill

The Manuscripts Department at Wilson Library at UNC will host its first panel discussion (in a weekly series of three) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 at 5:30pm. Each Tuesday, a panel discussion will be held to discuss a theme relating to the exhibit, "I Raised My Hand to Volunteer: Students Protest in 1960s Chapel Hill", which is now on view on the 4th Floor of Wilson Library.

This first panel is a very rare chance to hear key leaders and participants reflect on their involvement in the desegregation movement in Chapel Hill in the 1960s. On January 13, 1964 the Chapel Hill Town Council (then the Board of Aldermen) voted down an ordinance by a vote of 4-2 which would have provided public accomodations in all town businesses. The decision meant that theses businesses would remain segregated until the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

January 30: Panel Discussion, 5:30-7 pm, Pleasants Family Assembly Room, Wilson Library
Pressing the Hold-outs: The Desegregation Demonstrations of 1963-64

Moderator: Sally Greene: Chapel Hill Town Council Member and UNC-Chapel Hill adjunct law professor

Quinton Baker: Leader in the 1963-64 sit-ins; one of the protagonists of John Ehle's book “The Free Men”
Karen Parker: Activist in the 1963-64 sit-ins; first black female to earn her undergraduate degree from UNC-Chapel Hill
Braxton Foushee: Activist in the sit-ins; graduate of Lincoln High School; later became a member of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen and the School Board
Erika Stallings: Current UNC-Chapel Hill student; active in Campus Y, Black Student Movement, and Student Government

The second panel focuses on the Speaker Ban controversy of the mid-sixties and the third panel focuses on the Foodworkers' Strike of 1969. Panelists include former president of UNC William C. Friday, Lou Lipsitz, Julius Chambers, and many others. For more information, please visit:




I'm very excited about this panel. Biff Hollingsworth and Tim West deserve a lot of credit for getting the exhibit and these events together. As Biff says, it is a rare opportunity to hear from people who were there.

Biff's overview makes it obvious why a member of the Town Council was asked to moderate. What the demonstrators wanted was a local public accommodations ordinance. Not once but twice, the (then called) Board of Aldermen refused to pass it, even though a report from the Institute of Government said they were not prohibited from doing so, even though good lawyers and thinkers like Dan Pollitt argued for it, even though—in addition to the demonstrations—there was a newspaper ad in favor of it signed by almost 2,000 citizens (as against 71 signatures on an opposing petition). In fact the second time it came up, they didn't vote the ordinance up or down; they passed, by 4 to 2, a substitute resolution to establish a committee (by far not the first such committee) to work on voluntary desegregation. In short, the town's leaders did not lead.

The two who would have voted to enact the ordinance were Hugh Robinson, the first black to serve on the Board of Aldermen; and Adelaide Walters, who made a powerful statement in favor.

Braxton Foushee was a junior at Lincoln High in 1960 when, after the Greensboro sit-ins, he and other students began demonstrations at Colonial Drug and other establishments, including the two segregated movie theaters. He continued to be active in the 1963-64 demonstrations. In February 1964, he was one of 98 people arrested for a series of demonstrations that blocked the major highway intersections just as a UNC-Wake Forest basketball game was letting out.

Karen Parker, a journalist now at the Winston-Salem Journal, the first black woman undergraduate at UNC, got her journalism degree in 1965. In 1963-64 she was in the thick of the demonstrations. She wrote in her journal (now in the manuscript collection at Wilson Library), “On Saturday, the 14th, I decided to go to jail. It was no fun at all.”

Quinton Baker, a Greenville native attending college in Durham, was already working as an activist there when he decided to help out in Chapel Hill. With John Dunne and Pat Cusick (both deceased), he was one of the leaders of the movement. He helped to train demonstrators in the principles of nonviolent protest, including how to “go limp” when the police approached. At a demonstration at a grocery store, he had ammonia poured down his throat, resulting in first-degree burns; he had to have his stomach pumped. Yet even with that kind of opposition, through his steady leadership the demonstrations remained principled, never violent. He served a prison term.

The Chapel Hill movement had national significance. James Farmer of CORE was personally involved, as was Floyd McKissick. These young people exhibited tremendous strength and bravery, risking much. Yet it's a period that today is not well enough known. John Ehle tells the story beautifully in The Free Men, but it is out of print. There's good news, though: a small press in Lewisville, N.C., Press 53, is bringing it back into print. Ehle is expected to be at the panel on Tuesday. I hope many of you will be there too.


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