Monday, February 8, 2016

Neo-Black Society at Risk: The 1973 Challenge of NBS's Funding

In last week's Spartan Stories post, we looked at the 1967 Black Power Forum and its impact on the founding of UNCG's Neo-Black Society (NBS) in 1968. The founding of the NBS, however, did not come without controversy. Some students accused the NBS of "reverse racism," claiming that they refused to admit white students to the organization.

In February 1973, six white UNCG students filed a complaint with the Student Government Association's Committee on Classification of Organizations, calling for the revocation of NBS's standing as a financially-supported student organization. At the time, NBS had a membership of approximately 145 students. This petition cited two major complaints from those students regarding NBS membership and activities. At least four of the six petitioners were current Student Government Association (SGA) senators.

Two students in the NBS Lounge, 1973
The bulk of the petition focused on a claim that NBS was in violation of SGA bylaws due to "a direct link between NBS and YOBU -- a Black Separatist, anti-White group." YOBU (the Youth Organization for Black Unity, previously the Student Organization for Black Unity) was a Greensboro-based group that formed in 1969, growing out of the Black Power Movement. The petitioners claimed that YOBU "is limited to Black persons only," and, due to their alleged affiliation, NBS would limit its membership too. The petitioners noted that this violated SGA bylaws requiring organizations to "be open to any and all undergraduates." It also claims that UNCG's support of the NBS "placed both UNC-G and NBS very possibly in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, given NBS's association with YOBU."

On Sunday, February 25, 1973, a hearing was held by the SGA Committee on Classification of Organizations to investigate the claims made in the petition. The Committee determined that the petitioners statements did not meet the burden for reclassifying NBS and revoking its funding. Specifically in regards to affiliation with YOBU, the Committee stated that "no direct link has been proven to exist between the NBS and YOBU for the 1972-1973 school year," noting that the only evidence that the petitioners brought forth in support of this claim was that an NBS member "had her way paid to a YOBU open state conference with funds provided for her by NBS."

The Committee also found that additional claims of membership limitations based on race did not violate SGA bylaws. The Committee did suggest a small wording change for the NBS constitution to clarify the organization's intent, noting that the current wording of the NBS constitution "might induce misapprehension in the minds of those uninitiated in the intricacies of constitutional legality." Specifically, the Committee recommended replacing the sentence "Members and their invited guests may attend" to "Meetings must be open to the entire student body unless business pertinent only to NBS membership is being considered." You can read the full decision by the Committee here.

A full meeting of the Student Senate was held on March 20 to discuss the Neo-Black Society. Additionally, "open" and "executive" Senate sessions took place on March 26 and 27. In these sessions, SGA "heard appeals, rebuttals, and counter-rebuttals from delegations representing both the Neo-Black Society and the Senate." A Senate vote was taken over the NBS funding, and, acting counter to the findings of the Committee on Classifications of Organizations, the Senate voted to reclassify the NBS, removing its funding and rights to use university facilities.

A scuffle ensued in the Senate chambers after the decision was handed down. At least one student received treatment at a hospital after the incident. One Neo-Black Society member was later found guilty of assault by the Greensboro District Court. On the night of March 27, hundreds of students gathered at the Mossman Building for a sit-in demonstration to protest the Student Senate's decision. Estimates of student participation on that first night of demonstration are as high as 750 (including both black and white students).

Letter from Ferguson to NBS Coordinator Leon Chestnut
stating his decision to invalidate the SGA decision, Mach 31, 1973
Chancellor James Ferguson immediately convened a faculty committee to investigate the Senate's actions. An official report from the committee was filed with Chancellor Ferguson on March 31, advising "that the reclassification of the Neo-Black Society by the Student Senate was not justified. The Committee finds that the evidence presented did not establish the validity of the substantive charges. Furthermore, the Senate's procedure in dealing with the charges against the Neo-Black Society involved such serious improprieties as to limit the rights of the Society under rules of due process and fairness." Specifically, the report found that "new evidence of a substantial nature was introduced during the executive session, beyond the scrutiny of the NBS representative." It also reported that the Senate questionably chose to exclude NBS and Senate member Donna Benson from voting on the issue, while allowing four other Senators who had been original petitioners to vote.

This, however, did not end the question of funding and status for the Neo-Black Society at UNCG. Check back next week to learn more about the SGA reactions to Ferguson's faculty committee report and the ensuing legal procedures.

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