Monday, September 26, 2016

The Liberty Ship, S.S. Charles D. McIver

On May 23, 1943, the North Carolina Ship Building Company, located in Wilmington, North Carolina, launched its 100th Liberty Ship, the S.S. Charles D. McIver. As founder and first president of the State Normal and Industrial School (now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro), and a fierce advocate of public education for women, McIver was a natural choice for a commemorative Liberty Ship. He was one of several North Carolina educators to have this honor. Initially named after notable deceased Americans, the ships names’ eventually included men and women, of all ranks, who were lost in the war. Naming opportunities came to those who raised two million dollars in war bonds.

The S.S. Charles Duncan McIver, 1943*

On the day that the S.S. Charles D. McIver was launched, high-ranking representatives of the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, along with local dignitaries, gathered for the festivities in Wilmington, which was broadcasted on the radio. The shipyard band played as the newly christened ship slipped into the water. For glamor, Hollywood actress Constance Bennett was in attendance to present the shipyard with an award for its exceptional purchases of war bonds. Launching its first Liberty Ship only hours before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Wilmington shipyard was considered one of the best producers of these types of ships in the United States. The yard boasted over 20,000 employees and the ability to deliver up to ten ships per month.


Actress Constance Bennett attends the launching ceremony at the Wilmington Shipyard, May 25, 1943**

Based on a British design, Liberty Ships were basic cargo vessels built by the United States Maritime Commission during World War II. The first of these “Emergency Cargo” ships was launched on September 27, 1941, with President Franklin Roosevelt in attendance. Named the S.S. Patrick Henry, who is well remembered for his “Give me liberty or give me death” speech, the president expected these ships to bring liberty to Europe and they were dubbed accordingly. Liberty Ships were meant to be quickly and economically mass-produced, with parts manufactured throughout the country and then assembled at shipyards on the east and west coasts, as well as the Gulf of Mexico. Eighteen shipyards built over 2700 ships during the years between 1941 and 1945. Considered the “ugly ducklings” of the naval fleet, the Liberty Ships averaged 441 feet long with a crew of forty-four, holding almost 10,000 tons of cargo in addition to tanks, planes, and ammunition. Built to last only through the war, many of these ships survived, with over 800 incorporated into the United States cargo fleet, and others sold to Italy and Greece. Several ships continued to serve into the 1970s, and currently, two are used as museums. Sadly, the S.S. Charles D. McIver did not fare as well. On March 22, 1945, it sank after striking a mine as it left Antwerp, Belgium. A full rescue was made by a British motor minesweeper and a motor torpedo boat, which rescued the Merchant Marine crew and the armed guard also on board. The S.S. Charles D. McIver was later written off as a total loss.

*Image from the Charles D. McIver (Liberty Ship) subject file
** Image from The North Carolina Shipbuilder, June 1, 1943

Monday, September 19, 2016

Desegregating WC: Tillman, Smart, and the Long Road to Integration

This Fall semester marks the 60th anniversary of the desegregation of the student body at the Woman's College (now UNCG). In the previous two weeks, we explored previous issues related to integrating campus facilities and services. Classes in Fall 1956 began on September 20th, and this week we will look at the debates over desegregation at Woman's College and in the UNC Consolidated University. 

On September 20, 1956 -- 60 years ago this week -- Fall semester classes began at Woman's College (now UNCG). And for the first time in its history, the WC student body included two African American women. JoAnne Smart and Bettye Ann Davis Tillman enrolled in the Fall of 1956 as freshmen at WC, becoming trailblazers in the desegregation of the WC campus. Both graduated with the Class of 1960.

Bettye Ann Davis Tillman
Bettye Ann Davis Tillman was a 19-year-old student from Wadesboro, NC. She graduated from the Anson County Training School, a segregated school aimed at providing education for rural African Americans. Tillman was voted "most likely to succeed" by her classmates and graduated as salutatorian of her class.

JoAnne Smart of Raleigh entered WC as a 17-year-old. She was president of her class at the segregated J. W. Ligon School, where she was also a cheerleader and member of the glee club. More on JoAnne Smart (later, Drane) and her experience as a student at WC can be found in this earlier Spartan Stories post.

School officials noted in articles released to media outlets that Tillman and Smart were two of seven African American women who applied for admission to WC. Two applicants did not complete their application in full, and three others "failed to meet scholastic requirements."

The road to desegregation of the WC campus was not a smooth one. Starting in 1950, public discourse on segregation practices became more common. On the WC campus, a number of faculty members were quite active in encouraging desegregation – of the school and of local businesses. Warren Ashby, a philosophy professor, publicly endorsed school desegregation in a letter to the Greensboro Daily News and led a faculty council resolutions supporting the desegregation of UNC campuses in 1955. He also organized a group of faculty members who regularly met for lunch at the YMCA with faculty members from A&T. WC student leaders also spoke out against segregation, with The Carolinian in 1952 proclaiming segregation to be “legally, morally, and practically wrong.”

Bettye Ann Davis Tillman and JoAnne Smart, 1956
In 1951, the Supreme Court ruled that white professional schools had to admit African American students if there was not a comparable segregated black school. Under a ruling by the United States Court of Appeals, three African American men were granted admission to UNC’s School of Law in 1951.

The UNC Consolidated University -- which then consisted of UNC Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University, and WC -- fought against desegregation of the undergraduate colleges, and it would take lengthy court battles to win African American students access to North Carolina’s predominantly white universities. In 1951, NC State’s Chancellor Harrelson sent a letter detailing instructions for processing the applications of African American students to all of the college’s deans. He noted that while students applying for programs that were not available at historically black colleges had to be considered regardless of their race, African Americans students would not be accepted if they could attend a program at a segregated college.

In a unanimous 1954 decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, the U.S Supreme Court declared that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” But, this case failed to immediately bring about the admission of African Americans to undergraduate programs in North Carolina because higher education was not specifically discussed in the case. In fact, in early 1955, the year after the Brown decision was made and after a number of applications from potential African American students had been received, the Consolidated University System’s Board of Trustees passed a resolution affirming that all three institutions would not accept African American undergraduate students.

JoAnne Smart's letter of acceptance to WC, 1956
In a response to questions from UNC President Gordon Gray, NCSU Chancellor Carey Bostian drafted a form letter, which could be sent to any African American applicant to the UNC schools denying them admission solely on the basis of race. It stated that “The Board of Trustees of the Consolidated University of North Carolina has decided that applications of Negros to the undergraduate schools at the three branches of the Consolidated University will not be accepted. We trust that you will be able to pursue your education at another college."

On September 16, 1955, however, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of three African American men from Durham who had filed a lawsuit against the UNC Board of Trustees after being denied admission to the undergraduate program in Chapel Hill. They enrolled in 1955. Both NCSU and WC first admitted African American students in Fall 1956.

In discussing why she chose to attend Woman's College, JoAnne Smart Drane noted, "once I was aware of Brown v. Board of Education, it just seemed to offer a lot of hope for doing things that had not been done previously. And so I realized that this was an opportunity that could be had. So why not pursue it?" She recognized that she had an opportunity due to others who had gone before and fought against the leadership. When asked if she considered herself a trailblazer, she responded, "only in the sense that the opportunity to do what I did could have been done by so many others before me. But those doors were closed, and they did not have the same opportunity ... If they had the same privilege, [they] could have gone through the same doors and done even more."

Monday, September 12, 2016

African Americans and WC Library Use Prior to Desegregation

This Fall semester marks the 60th anniversary of the desegregation of the student body at the Woman's College (now UNCG). Classes in Fall 1956 began on September 20th, and next week we will look at the debates over integration and the process of desegregating the student body. But this week, we are re-sharing a post from 2014 that will help provide context for next week's post. 

In February 1951, UNC System Trustee (and vocal segregationist) John W. Clark contacted Woman’s College Chancellor Edward Kidder Graham to inquire about faculty members’ support of integration and college policies regarding campus facilities and resources. In investigating Clark’s questions, Graham found that the Library (which had just moved in to its new building) allowed limited use by African-American students from neighboring colleges, and that Librarian Charles Adams had recently conducted an internal discussion with his staff regarding use of the Library by African Americans.
Entrance to the newly-constructed library, 1951

Adams’s library was relatively open to African Americans – both students and faculty at neighboring colleges and select community members. Full access to the public catalog as well as use of books from the closed stacks (via call slip), from the open shelves in the reference and periodical rooms, or through interlibrary loan was permitted. Visiting African-American librarians from neighboring colleges and students in the Library Training program at Bennett College were given full tours of the Library facilities. Reference services were “given liberally on request and considerable effort has been made to help them graciously and fully in locating material for their study or research.” Only the reserve reading room, which housed required reading for WC students, was not open to use by the African-American visitors.

After a face-to-face meeting with Adams regarding library policy in early April 1951, Graham wrote a tense letter outlining what he saw as the leading issues related to the use of Library resources by African Americans and chastising the librarian for his decisions to construct and apply Library policy without first consulting the chancellor. Graham argued that it was Adams’ responsibility to bring this matter to his attention before creating an internal policy, stating that “any procedure or practice, or any policy question, bearing on the use of College facilities by Negroes should be brought to my attention.” He added that any policies relating to use of College facilities must conform to Trustee regulations (which required segregated facilities), and that, because Adams did not involve him in the discussion regarding use policy sooner, “we now find ourselves in an unhappy position.”

WC Chancellor Edward Kidder Graham
Graham sought a formal policy specifically restricting African-American use of the library facilities. Adams, however, notably avoided a creating a policy that limited access based on race, choosing instead to develop a policy that more uniformly limited library access for all non-WC college students. Adams insured that use of the WC Library by non-WC students would continue, but only with a new requirement in place. All students from outside of the Woman’s College would now be required to present a letter of introduction or a card of identification from their home institution’s library.

While these new restrictions satisfied Chancellor Graham, Trustee Clark continued his assault on WC. In February 1952, he once again argued against use of the Library by African Americans, proposing a movement “that the Woman’s College Library be reserved for the students for whom it was built, and that if the Negro students do not have a sufficient library, one be built for them.” Trustee Laura Cone, a graduate of WC, pointed out the existing policy that required all non-WC students to present documentation from his or her own college librarian stating the student’s research needs. But, the remaining Trustees voted to refer the issue to the Executive Committee (which no longer included Clark) and request a full report at their meeting on April 19.

Adams once again avoided producing a policy with constraints solely based on race. His March 1952 policy statement specifically targeted “the use of Library materials by non-college persons” – never specifically placing restrictions on use by African Americans, students or non-students. Instead, it required all people who are not WC students or alumnae to present clear evidence of their need for the use of the WC Library. As noted in Adams letter from the previous summer, the policy required students from other colleges in Greensboro to “present a card or letter from their librarian requesting books or services not available at their institution.” Unlike the policies at State College and Chapel Hill, the WC policy allowed non-WC students – regardless of race – to borrow books as long as they provided the required letter of need from their home institution.

WC Librarian Charles Adams
On May 12, 1952, Graham took the finalized policy for use of the library by non-WC students to the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees. His report, along with reports provided by his counterparts at State College and UNC Chapel Hill, was presented by President Gray. Trustee Laura Cone made the initial motion to close the investigations, stating that “the Executive Committee is satisfied that the use of the library by Negroes is properly restricted and conducted at the three institutions.” With that, the major discussion of the issue at the Board level was resolved. Restrictions against library use by non-WC students were formally and firmly in place, but were to be equally applied to all non-WC students, regardless of the patron’s race.

The debate over African-American use of Woman’s College resources touched upon many key topics prevalent in North Carolina in the 1950s. While administrators of the Consolidated System fought against desegregation and the forced admission of African-American students to the University campus in Chapel Hill in 1951, Charles Adams and the librarians of the Woman’s College stepped forward to commit to access to information and Library resources, regardless of the color of the patron’s skin.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Walter Clinton Jackson, Race, and WC Resources

This Fall semester marks the 60th anniversary of the desegregation of the student body at the Woman's College (now UNCG). Classes in Fall 1956 began on September 20th, and in the next few weeks, we will examine the history of segregation on campus.This week, we are re-sharing a post from 2013 that will help provide context for the next few weeks' posts. 

Throughout the first seven decades of its existence, the institution now known as UNCG grappled with a number of questions regarding facility use by students from neighboring colleges, particularly the nearby African-American institutions such as North Carolina A&T and Bennett College.

Interior of the College Library, circa 1923
As early as February 1929, administrators were discussing use of the Library by students from A&T. Then Vice President (and later Chancellor) Walter Clinton Jackson wrote College President Julius Foust on February 15, 1929, requesting that an A&T student be allowed to borrow books from the College Library. Jackson wrote, “it seems to me rather incongruous that we should refuse a little courtesy of this kind to a neighbor institution, even though a negro institution. It is a very small matter, in a way, but it has large consequences so far as the Negroes are concerned.”

Foust agreed to discuss the matter with the College Librarian and “do anything we can to aid these students.” He quickly added, however, that Jackson should be acutely award “that certain embarrassments may arise in our attempt to do what they request” and that he “doubt[ed] the wisdom of permitting negro students to take the books out of our library.” While he agreed to consider the idea, Foust added that he would ask the Librarian to consult with Dr. Anna Gove, the student health coordinator, to learn more “about the danger that may arise from disease if these students are permitted to take the books and use them when our students must use them when they are returned to the library.”

Jackson’s decision to support the use of the WC Library by African-American students ran counter to the Jim Crow laws that were prevalent across North Carolina at the time. Jackson, however, was well known as a champion of racial equality. He arrived at the institution then known as State Normal in 1909 to lead the history department. A native of Georgia, he studied at Mercer University and spoke frequently on the topic of race relations in American history. Although he was forced to work within the framework of the segregated South, he served as chairman of local, state, and southern regional Commissions on Interracial Cooperation. From 1938 to 1953, he served as chairman of the Board of Trustees at Bennett College.

Walter Clinton Jackson, 1948
Throughout his sixteen-year tenure as Woman’s College chancellor (1934-1950), Jackson opened many venues for progress and collaboration between WC and its neighboring educational institutions, including those that were African American. In a June 17, 1935, letter to Charlotte Hawkins Brown, he expressed dismay that WC would not be able to openly welcome students from Brown’s Palmer Institute, a school for African Americans in Sedalia, North Carolina, just outside of Greensboro. After Brown declined to bring her students to a music performance at the WC due to the segregated seating requirements, Jackson wrote, “I hope the time will speedily come when difficulties which confront us may be more easily resolved.”

State laws and regulations, however, did not support open sharing of resources between WC and its African-American neighbor institutions. “Separate but equal” policies resulted in the segregation of public schools, public spaces, transportation, restrooms, restaurants, and drinking fountains. Since 1901, North Carolina state law had explicitly required separate facilities for the consumption of library materials by white and black citizens. While a number of prominent North Carolinians, including Governor W. Kerr Scott (1949-1953), believed in extended some degree of civil liberties to African Americans, the general consensus across the state favored the continuation of segregationist policies.

Jackson’s willingness to push these boundaries and search for concessions whenever possible led to him being recognized as a “pioneer in the field of better race relations” when he received an honorary doctorate from Bennett in 1949. While Jackson was no longer Chancellor when the WC was officially desegregated in 1956, he stood as an early leader in creating a more open and accepting campus.