A 1964 letter written on a paper towel from the jail in Hillsborough, newly available photographs of desegregation protests and sit-ins at Chapel Hill businesses, and a 1965 letter from J. Edgar Hoover transmitting information about the FBI’s stance regarding communists on college campuses will be among more than 100 documents, photographs and artifacts on exhibit Jan. 23 through May 31 at UNC.
“I Raised My Hand to Volunteer: Students Protest in 1960’s Chapel Hill,” an exhibit in the Manuscripts Department of UNC’s Wilson Library, will examine the political ferment of the 1960s as it played out on the UNC campus.
An inaugural lecture and a series of panel discussions sponsored by the Manuscripts Department and Friends of the Library will shed further light on this turbulent period in the history of the country and the University. Panelists will include Julius Chambers ’62 (LLBJD), the civil rights activist, former chancellor of N.C. Central University and attorney for students arrested during sit-ins; William Friday ’48 (LLB), president of the UNC System throughout the 1960s; Karen Parker ’65, the first black female undergraduate at UNC; and others who participated in events of the day. Current UNC undergraduates will comment on parallels they see with student activism today.
“The ’60s had more consequence for our lives today than most of us realize,” said Peter Filene, Bowman and Gordon Gray Distinguished Term Professor in the department of history at UNC.
Filene, who will speak at the exhibit opening, said that enduring changes in sexual culture and racial attitudes date to this period, as do students’ own expectation that they should “have a voice” in campus decisions.
The exhibit is being organized around four critical issues that mobilized students of the day, said Tim West ’72 (MAT, ’76 MSW), curator of manuscripts and director of the Southern Historical Collection in Wilson Library. They are the 1963 and 1964 sit-ins targeting Chapel Hill businesses that had not voluntarily desegregated; North Carolina’s Speaker Ban Law, passed by the N.C. General Assembly in 1963 to prevent communists from speaking at public college and university campuses; the growth of UNC’s Black Student Movement and the movement’s role in organizing campus foodworker strikes in 1969 to protest discriminatory labor practices; and the war in Vietnam.
Activism around social issues took special hold at UNC in part because of local involvement with desegregation, Filene said. “There had been a lot of preparation with civil rights activity in the town. The campus had already been thinking about race for a long time.”
West said the depth of activity around racial issues was “highly unusual for a flagship public university in the South. It set the stage for later action around other issues.”
Student desegregation activities of 1963 helped inspire passage of the Speaker Ban Law, and it was the actions of UNC students, who invited communist Herbert Aptheker to campus in 1966, that led to the judicial overturning of the law in 1968.
West said he wanted to keep the focus of the exhibit and related programming squarely on the role of students, in part because he believes the emphasis will resonate with current students. “Standing up and taking action is a real legacy of this University,” he said. “Ordinary people on both sides of these issues did courageous things to support the causes they believed in. That still goes on today, even if the issues have changed.”
Because this type of activism is such an integral part of the University’s identity, West said, it is a special obligation of UNC’s library to archive and elucidate that history.
An endowment to help the library document social change was established in 2003 under the leadership of Faryl Sims Moss ’66. Augmented by gifts from the Oregon-based Kuse Foundation and private donors, the endowment is being used to identify, bring to UNC’s libraries and make ready for use materials that can help students and scholars understand the 1960s and the phenomenon of citizen activism.
The library is especially interested in diaries, correspondence and photos that provide a “unique or rare” perspective on the era, West said.
The initiative is unusual among research libraries, he said, but UNC is unusual in its history. “A lot of people got their start as activists right here,” he said. “We hope this exhibit and the programs around it will get people thinking about that past, how we can preserve it, and what we can learn from it.”
Manuscripts Department hours for viewing “I Raised My Hand to Volunteer” are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays. For information about the exhibit, call (919) 962-1345. For information about the opening program and panel discussions, contact Liza Terll by e-mail or at (919) 962-4207. All events are free and open to the public.
Schedule of events associated with
“I Raised my Hand to Volunteer:
Students Protest in 1960s Chapel Hill”
Jan. 23 – Professor Peter Filene, Bowman and Gordon Gray Distinguished Term Professor in the department of history at UNC, will give a talk titled “Personally Authentic: Carolina Student Protesters in the Sixties.” Filene, who began teaching at UNC in 1967, will draw on his own experiences as well as his research and teaching about the political movements of the era and student activism in general. Wilson Library, reception and exhibit viewing at 5 p.m., program at 6 p.m.
Jan. 30 – “Pressing the Hold-outs: The Desegregation Sit-ins of 1963-64,” Wilson Library, 5:30 – 7 p.m.
Moderator: Sally Greene: Chapel Hill Town Council member and UNC adjunct law professor
Feb. 6 – “Speaking Out-of-Bounds: Communism, Race, Intellectual Freedom, and the Speaker Ban Controversy of the Mid-Sixties,” Wilson Library, 5:30 – 7 p.m..
Moderator: Ferrel Guillory, director, Program on Southern Politics, Media and Public Life, UNC
Feb. 13 – “Stomping Down: The Foodworkers Strike of 1969 and the Black Student Movement, ” Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History, Seminar Room, 5:30 – 7 p.m. Sponsored in associate with the Sonja Haynes Stone Center.
Moderator: Archie Ervin: Associate provost for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs