Monday, February 25, 2013

African American Studies at UNCG

When organized in the 1967-1968 academic year, the Neo Black Society at UNCG expressed three primary goals for the new student group. Two social missions were recognized: a desire to help with voter registration drives and to work with the Greensboro United Tutorial Service (a community group aimed at connecting college students with community education efforts). But they also aimed to "help establish an Afro-American history course on this campus." Students argued that black history and culture merited a much larger place in the University curriculum. In 1969, a faculty committee agreed.

Loren Schweninger
The history department proposed the first course in African-American history to be taught by Richard Bardolph, a white faculty member who had published in the field. Students, however, insisted that the course must be taught by an African American instructor. For one experimental year in 1970, Bardolph traded courses with his colleague at North Carolina A&T, Frank White. The following year, the history department hired an African-American specialist, Loren Schweninger. A former student of John Hope Franklin at the University of Chicago, Schweninger continued teaching history courses on race and slavery until his 2012 retirement (he remains a professor emeritus in the Department of History).

While there was considerable discussion of a black studies program through the 1970s and a number of departments across campus joined the history department in offering courses focused on African American history and culture, an official interdisciplinary minor in Black Studies was not offered until 1982. Robert Miller, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, led the charge in the establishment of the minor. Students chose their classes from eleven existing social science, humanities, and music courses. Dr. Lee Bernick of the Department of Political Science was chosen as the first chairman of the Black Studies Program.

The course catalog from the 1982-1983 academic year described the objectives of the Black Studies Program:
  • “To signify to the university community that teaching and learning about the history and experience of blacks in American society is an integral part of a university education. 
  • To enable all undergraduate students, white and black, to learn how blacks have exerted an indelible impact on the American society and to assist black students in learning more about their history and background. 
  • To add another humanistic dimension to the liberal arts undergraduate experience of students in this university.” 
During 1985-1986 academic year, UNCG offered its first Black Studies specific courses. One course, Blacks in America: Historical and Cultural Perspective (BKS 100), provided a “historical analysis of Afro-American culture. Topics included are West Africa, folk culture, religion, music, drama, film, literature, family and kinship patterns, and black consciousness.” The other course was Blacks in American Society: Social, Economic, and Political Perspectives (BKS 110). This course focused on the “social, political, economic experience of blacks in the United States. Topics include the black family, Civil Rights Movement, black politicians, and blacks in the labor market.”

UNCG African American Studies Program website
In 1992-1993, the Black Studies Program officially changed its name to the African American Studies Program. In recent years, the department has continued to grow. On February 8, 2002, the Board of Governors approved UNCG's request for authorization to establish a Bachelor of Arts degree in African American Studies. And in Fall 2009, the Program began offering a Post-baccalaureate certificate in African American Studies.

The Program continues to provide UNCG’s “increasingly diverse student population with an opportunity to study the cultures, histories, and experiences of the African World--from Africa, to the Americas, the Caribbean, and the Indian Ocean.”

Monday, February 18, 2013

Neo-Black Society vs. the student senate, 1973

In 1967, black students at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) formed the student group, the Neo-Black Society (NBS), in response to growing concerns about the support and acceptance of black students on campus.  At its founding, the NBS was extremely separatist, calling for parallel university events for black students.  The organization was also very vocal in advocating the recruiting of more black faculty at UNCG as well the incorporation of more black history and culture into the curriculum. First meeting in the student lounge, the NBS soon moved to a more permanent room in Elliott Hall.  The organization quickly distinguished itself across the campus and within the Greensboro community through its sponsorship of an annual Black Arts Festival as well as a Gospel Choir and other social activities.

In 1973, the NBS had clearly established itself as a strong, albeit confrontational, presence across the UNCG campus. This resulted in some resentment by some white students who consequently pushed for the removal of student funding for the NBS.  They argued that the society was segregationist by refusing to admit whites which was a direct violation of the university’s anti-discrimination regulations.  It was true that at the time all 145 members of the NBS were black and that there had only been a few white members since its founding in 1967. Acknowledging the students’ complaints, the student senate on the night of March 26-27, voted to withdraw funding for the organization.  Hearing the results of this meeting created an immediate backlash across the university as over 300 students began a sit-in movement to occupy the Foust building.  Recognizing the frustrations of the students, Chancellor Ferguson agree to appoint a faculty review committee to look into the matter.  During this time, the students continued to peacefully maintain a sit-in presence while the committee investigated the matter.

Chaired by psychology Professor Kendon Smith and made up of three white professors and two black professors, the committee agreed on March 30th to uphold the NBS funding and found the student senate in serious breach of procedural errors.  Chancellor Ferguson accepted the findings as did most of the faculty.  Despite the ruling, some students were still upset and appealed to the board of trustees who voted to remand the matter to the student senate for further consideration.  In the fall of 1973, the NBS agreed to add several white members to the organization as well as draft anti-discrimination language into its constitution which appeased the senate and funding was restored.

University experiences peaceful sit-in demonstration while faculty committee considers Senate's actions

Monday, February 11, 2013

JoAnne Smart Drane Remembers The Integration of Woman's College

JoAnne Smart and Bettye Tillman, 1956
In 1954, the United States Supreme Court ruled in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision that state-sanctioned segregation of public schools was unconstitutional.

This decision eventually led the state of North Carolina to begin the process of desegregating its three branches of the Consolidated University of North Carolina: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State College in Raleigh, and Woman’s College in Greensboro.  In 1956, Woman’s College (now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro) admitted the first two African American students – JoAnne Smart and Bettye Tillman. 

Smart recalls in her oral history interview, conducted in 2008 for The University of North Carolina at Greensboro Institutional Memory Collection, that she decided to apply to the previously all-white Woman’s College after she became aware of the Supreme Court decision.

She learned about being accepted to the college from an Associated Press reporter who called her in mid-August of 1956 to ask her how it felt being accepted to the Woman’s College.  Smart said the telephone call “boggled her mind” since she had not gotten an acceptance letter from the college.

When Smart arrived on campus on September 13, 1956, she learned that she had been assigned to Shaw Residence Hall where she met her new roommate, Bettye Tillman.  She and Tillman not only shared a room but an entire wing of the first floor of Shaw dorm.  The college made this special arrangement to prevent the two black students from sharing bathroom facilities with their white classmates – separation of bathroom facilities had been a major concern often mentioned in letters from white parents when news began to spread that two black students were being admitted to the college.  This arrangement left several rooms in that wing of Shaw dorm empty while other students were housed three or four per room across campus. The internal segregation lasted for a couple of years until several white students asked permission from the college administration to move into the empty rooms.

During the next few years, black students moved into other dorms on campus, but were always assigned rooms together and often in former dorm counselors rooms that had private bathrooms.

Smart also talked about being treated fairly by most faculty members and students.  Some students would ignore her but that was rare.  She was never in the same class as Tillman, they were always the only black student in a class during their entire four years, and they never had a black instructor at Woman’s College.

Regarding her social life on campus, Smart remembers that it was almost non-existent since movie theaters, restaurants, and other public places were still segregated in the late 1950s.  Smart said that she did socialize with the other black students on campus or with students from the historically black North Carolina A&T State College located in east Greensboro.

Smart and Tillman had their education classes on campus but were not allowed to do their student teaching at the Curry Practice School located on campus.  Smart recalls taking a taxi across town to do her student teaching at all-black Dudley High School. 

After graduating from Woman’s College in 1960, Smart went to North Carolina Central College and Duke University to complete her master’s in guidance counseling.  She eventually held several positions in the Raleigh City Schools and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

In 1992, the parlor of Shaw Residence Hall was named for JoAnne Smart and Bettye Tillman and in 2008; the Smart-Tillman Distinguished Professorship in the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance was created in their honor.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Woolworth Sit-Ins Remembered by Woman’s College Alumni

Prior to the 1960s, all public accommodations in the South were segregated including hotels, restaurants, restrooms, theaters, water fountains, and lunch counters.  African Americans could buy food at some lunch counters and take the food out, but they could not sit at the counters to eat.

On Monday, February 1, 1960, four North Carolina A&T State College students, initiated what would become a nationwide protest when they demanded the right to sit and be served at the Woolworth’s lunch counter on South Elm Street in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina. 

At least seven students -- Ann Dearsley, Laura Goldin, Claudette Graves, Myrna Lee, Marilyn Lott, Eugenia “Genie” Seaman, and Elizabeth “Betsy” Toth -- from the Woman’s College (now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro) joined the protest later in the week.  All the Woman’s College students except Graves and Lee were white. This caused quite an uproar not only on campus but also across the South when news of three white students participating in the protest was published in the newspapers.
Dearsley, Lott, and Seaman at Woolworth on Thursday, February 4, 1960
Greensboro Daily News, February 5, 1960

These seven alumni have been interviewed and their oral histories are now housed in Jackson Library’s Hodges Special Collections and University Archives on the campus of The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  Following are some of their remembrances about the Woolworth Sit-ins.

recalls having one of the white men who was milling around behind the lunch counter pull a knife and run it up and down her back.  She also remembers that she, Lott, and Seaman were surrounded by several A&T football players and escorted to a cab through the white mob outside Woolworth when they were ready to leave that afternoon to return to the campus. 

In her oral history interview, Toth recalls a person threatened to hit her upside her head with a two-by-four and wanting to go after that person.  She was told by Bennett College student protesters not to react but use the non-violent approach to the situation.

Seaman remembers that she found out about the Sit-ins through Marilyn Lott’s brother who was a student at nearby Greensboro College.  Seaman was from Florida and when the Orlando Sentinel published the story of her participation in the Sit-ins, her family received hate phone calls and her father’s business suffered.

When Lott was interviewed several years ago, she recalled being expelled from the college and later reinstated because of her participation in the Sit-ins.

Several other Woman’s College students also participated including Goldin who remembered the scene at Woolworth and feeling fear “because there were all those redneck guys in their bib overalls and screaming and yelling and calling obscenities.” 

Lee wanted to be a part of the protest; however, her father asked her not to become newsworthy so she decided to use her car to drive students to the Sit-ins – She said in her interview that she had worked out a schedule to attend her classes, pick up students from A&T College or Bennett College, drop off students near Woolworth, and then pick them up for a return trip to their school.

Graves said, “It was very significant that Woman’s College had students who would take the risk to come and be a part of that effort—of the Sit-ins.”

Each of the Woman’s College students who participated in the Woolworth Sit-ins felt that it was their “moral obligation” to join the protest in spite of possible reprisals from the hostile white crowd and were proud that they had participated in the protest.

For additional information about the civil rights movement and the Woolworth Sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, please see the Civil Rights Greensboro online collection created by the Digital Projects Office at the University Libraries