Monday, February 23, 2015

Claudette Graves Burroughs-White: Pioneer of Desegregation

February is Black History Month. To celebrate, our Spartan Stories this month focus on remembering important people and events related to the history of African Americans and UNCG.

Claudette Graves Burroughs-White, 1961 yearbook
Claudette Graves Burroughs-White was a student at Woman's College (now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro) from 1957-1961. She entered the college during the second year of the campus' desegregation and faced many personal and academic challenges because of it. During Burroughs-White's senior year at Dudley High School in Greensboro, North Carolina, the city saw the integration of their public schools. Many in her senior class were involved with local protests and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and they believed that it was important to see their classmates placed in all of the state colleges. They were successful and Burroughs-White was one of five African American students who enrolled at Woman's College. She found that some students and professors were very welcoming, but others were blatantly unhappy with the new integrated campus. There were no African American professors. In fact, the only African Americans on campus were those who worked in maintenance or housekeeping.

Although she lived at home and not in a dormitory, the living quarters on campus were still somewhat segregated. The African American students lived in the same dormitories as the white students, but were required to live in separate halls with their own bathrooms. Her campus involvement was somewhat limited because of her commute to campus and her job. Most of her social life was off campus and she had a strong network with her high school friends and her family church. She and her friends dated the young men from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, a historically black university also located in Greensboro.

Graves Burroughs-White as Social Chair of the Town Students Association
Burroughs-White later recalled that while many white students were anxious to be her friend, others ignored her. She was constantly amazed that girls, who professed to be her friends, would not touch the same utensils or lab equipment that she used. Incredibly, one fellow student believed that Burroughs-White had a tail. Other students were changed very positively by knowing her personally - they recognized their racial prejudice and were able to rethink their position. Burroughs-White was attending Woman’s College during the February 1960 Sit-in at Woolworth's in downtown Greensboro and she was involved in this nonviolent Civil Rights protest.

While in college, Burroughs-White majored in sociology and was interested in working in the field of juvenile justice. After graduation, she briefly moved to Philadelphia, then returned to Greensboro and took a position as a probation officer with the Domestic Relations Court of Guilford. She continued to work in the court system until she retired in 1994. Burroughs-White was very active in the community serving as a city councilwoman (1994-2005) and as a member of the Governor's Crime Commission (1997-2005), the United Way, the Girl Scouts, and the YWCA. Throughout her career she was admired as a pioneer and received many prestigious awards in her field.

In 1991, she was interviewed as part of the UNCG Centennial Oral History Project. You can find the full transcript of her oral history interview online at

Monday, February 16, 2015

UNCG's Black Power Forum of 1967

February is Black History Month. To celebrate, our Spartan Stories this month focus on remembering important people and events related to the history of African Americans and UNCG.

Throughout the 1960s, Greensboro served as a key site for the civil rights movement. After the Sit Ins and protests of the early 1960s, the middle of the decade saw the ideals of black self-determination and pride being spread throughout Greensboro and the nation. The term “Black Power” first entered the national consciousness through Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) leader Stokely Carmichael’s speech at the March Against Fear in 1966. Black Power soon became known as a movement for solidarity within the black community and the fight for racial independence.

Agenda for November 1, 1967,
the first day of the Black Power Forum
While students at North Carolina A&T University stood as leaders in the movement, discussions were not limited to the area’s historically black colleges and universities. On November 1-3, 1967, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro played host to a controversial Black Power Forum, organized in large part by the UNCG Student Government Association to “inform students and faculty members of this movement and its actions and to give us a chance to discuss Black Power, its history, its political and social implications for us and the nation.” 

The forum was organized around three topics: “Black Power past and present,” “the ghetto,” and “Black Power and the self-image of the Negro.” Speakers from across the country were brought in for presentations and discussions held in Cone Ballroom. Attendance the first day was judged “poor” with fewer than 75 attendees at the initial session, but by Thursday evening attendance had grown to 800. A UNCG report summarizing activities after the conclusion of the Forum noted “that off-campus people outnumbered UNCG students and faculty, that they were primarily Negroes and males, that a considerable number of them seemed to be sympathetic toward the concepts of Black Power, and that they often expressed their feelings with applause or cheers.”

The Forum did not occur without controversy. Editorials and essays declared that the University had been “used” by activists with a specific agenda. Rumors abounded that Ku Klux Klan members planned to attend the Forum, and UNCG Chancellor James Ferguson was forced to ask police officers with the City of Greensboro to attend each of the scheduled sessions to “guard against possible trouble.”

Black Power Forum participants, 1967
Additionally, administrators expressed concern that the sessions “did not produce a detached, objective examination of the ideas of Black Power but were given over to vigorous exhortations in support and advocacy of the movement.” But they could not deny that the Forum provided students with a learning opportunity. As stated in the UNCG report, “today’s students, today’s citizenry in general must learn all they can about the nature of Black Power and the forces that brought it into being. They need to be aware of the task before them. Above all, they should not wait until a crisis develops – until there is a riot in the streets – to gain knowledge of this troublesome subject.”

Monday, February 9, 2015

Charlotte Hawkins Brown, Walter Clinton Jackson, and Segregated Facilities at WC

February is Black History Month. To celebrate, our Spartan Stories this month focus on remembering important people and events related to the history of African Americans and UNCG.

Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown was a prominent African American educator who, in 1902, founded the Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia, NC (in eastern Guilford County). Due to its proximity to Greensboro, there was an established relationship between Brown, the Palmer Memorial Institute, and the educational leaders at the school now known as UNCG. In the Summer of 1924, Brown spoke on "inter-racial relations" at the annual YWCA Conference attended by many students from Greensboro. Some alumni recall the Sedalia Singers, the Palmer Memorial Institute's traveling choir, performing at the mandatory chapel sessions.

Brown in 1912
Lula Martin McIver, widow of founding president Charles Duncan McIver, served on the Palmer Memorial Institute Board of Trustees. In a heartfelt letter written on September 17, 1926, to Mrs. McIver, Brown discussed her pride at three of her students (including her adopted son) leaving the Institute to attend college. Brown wrote that McIver should "take a share of the credit to your own dear self for if you had not stood by me all these years, I could not have done for them what has been done."

Brown faced constant challenges to retain adequate funding for her school. While the school had a strong performing arts curriculum, students lacked an appropriate venue for local performances, and, because of the strict Jim Crow segregation laws in North Carolina, they were forced to travel to northern U.S. cities in order to attend the top-notch musical performances she wished them to experience. On July 22, 1928, she wrote to Wade Brown, head of the school of music of what was then the North Carolina College for Women (now UNCG) asking if her Institute might use the newly-constructed Aycock Auditorium as a venue for their annual concert. She wrote, "I always have tried to make friends of my neighbors, and it hurts me to feel that there is no place in Greensboro where we can give our program." Her request was denied, based on the state's strict rules regarding segregation in public buildings.

Aycock Auditorium interior at the 1930 Commencement
The issue of segregated seating in Aycock Auditorium was again raised by Brown in May 1935 when she wrote then president Walter Clinton Jackson to request that she be allowed to purchase 50 tickets for her students to attend performances by the Greensboro Civic Music Association in Aycock Auditorium. Jackson responded with his desire to allow her students to attend, but offered segregated seating -- "a block of 55 seats on the mezzanine floor of the auditorium" with "two stairways that give easy and comfortable access to these seats." He assured her that these seats "are regarded as being as good as any in the house."

Brown, however, declined the offer, noting that after talking with Jackson and other educators she felt "that perhaps after all it will be better for us and our students to forgo the pleasure and inspiration of the fine music for the time being." She felt uncomfortable with the segregated seating arrangement, feeling that her students may think that she asked specifically for this seating arrangement. After thought, however, she stated, "I asked for the opportunity of hearing the music. It would be impossible to hear it in North Carolina without accepting segregation."

Jackson in 1948
While Jackson was viewed as socially progressive on racial issues for the time, he was bound by the state's Jim Crow laws. He apologized to Brown for the situation and wrote, "I hope the time will speedily come when the difficulties which confront us may be more easily resolved."

Two years later, however, Brown was forced to write Jackson again, this time asking for a block of 50 seats, "segregated as offered." Her budget no longer allowed for the students to travel to New York City and Boston for any performances. While she was adamantly opposed to segregation, she wrote that "the souls of Negroes are starving for fine music." She saw musical performances as integral components of her students' education. And she optimistically wrote that, "when this segregation is wiped away, as it is going to be in public places of this kind within twenty-five years, leaders who have been developed at Palmer Memorial Institute shall have taught their children such appreciation of these fine things in life that they will be able to go to these musicals and listen with appreciation."

Monday, February 2, 2015

Pieces of the Past: Gwendolyn Magee Quilting for a Better Future

February is Black History Month. To celebrate, our Spartan Stories this month focus on remembering important people and events related to the history of African Americans and UNCG. Today's post is written by guest authors Jordan Rossi and Lisa Withers, students in UNCG's Graduate Program in Museum Studies. The exhibit of Pieces of the Past will be on display at the High Point Museum until February 18, 2015.

Gwen Magee, 1963 Pine Needles
What do you do when you witness or experience injustice? How do you share your reactions to community or government decisions? Do you protest? Create art? When the state of Mississippi voted to keep the Confederate battle cross in their state flag, activist quilter Gwendolyn Magee responded by making a narrative quilt. The product, Southern Heritage/Southern Shame, layered images of the Confederate flag, bodies hanging from nooses, and the hood of a Ku Klux Klan robe. To Magee, keeping the Confederate battle cross on the state flag celebrated a heritage that enslaved, repressed, and murdered African Americans. She channeled her outrage through her art. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Magee skillfully used fabric to share her reactions to past and present events, to create awareness of racial injustice, and to share stories of the African American experience in the United States.

Although Gwendolyn Magee lived in Jackson, Mississippi, for most of her life, she grew to adulthood in the Triad. Raised in High Point, North Carolina, Gwendolyn Magee moved to Greensboro in 1959 and attended Woman's College. The years spent as a college student in Greensboro, planted the seeds of activism Magee would nurture throughout her life and in her quilts. In the wake of the 1960s sit-ins in Downtown Greensboro, Magee and four black students picketed businesses on Tate Street, which remained segregated. In 1963, student-led protests pushed Tate Street businesses to desegregate.

On campus, Magee also petitioned for inclusion in activities. She and a friend auditioned for a dance routine in their Junior Class Show, but were not selected to participate. Both experienced dancers, the women believed they did not make the cut because they were African American. Magee and her friend volunteered to run the lights during the show. They jumped on stage and danced alongside their white classmates. Experiences such as these led to additional expressions of activism during graduate school, before Magee ultimately turned to quilting as her medium for advocacy.

As Magee created quilts, she became well known, gaining recognition for her work. This article
from the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, MS, announces Magee winning a
$50,000 fellowship from the United States Artists (USA Fellowship) in 2007.
Image courtesy of Dr. D. E. Magee, Kamili Hemphill, and Dr. Aliya Magee.

Magee began quilting in 1989, just before her eldest daughter left for college. Her early work included traditional patterned quilts made for her family (Infinity) and abstract quilts (Hot Ice). Soon, Magee grew dissatisfied with the characterization of African American quilts as folk art. In search for contemporary, African American quilts, Magee found an activist art community, in which many of the artists were African American women quilters.
“But when I began looking at what some other African American quilters were doing, that’s when I became dissatisfied with not doing anything that had cultural relevance but just doing work that essentially was pretty. Well it’s more than pretty but it still didn’t feel as if it mattered all that much in the greater scheme of things, compared to the narrative work which I’m doing today.” -Gwen Magee Oral History Interview 

Pieces of the Past: The Art of Gwendolyn Magee exhibit on display
at the High Point Museum until February 18, 2015.
Image courtesy of Lisa Withers.
Magee began using her artistic talent to make quilts depicting the African American experience. For example, When Hope Unborn Had Died, is one of several quilts depicting slavery. Magee also made quilts in reaction to modern events. Her quilt, Requiem, is an expression of sorrow for the loss of African American culture when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Until her death in 2011, Magee dedicated her artistic talents to sharing knowledge, sparking community dialogue, and building a better future. Magee’s quilts challenge us to evaluate the state of American society.

Magee remained relatively unknown in North Carolina until the Woman’s College Class of 1963 and the UNCG Art Department exhibited her work on UNCG’s campus. Magee’s work traveled to her childhood home of High Point in Pieces of the Past: The Art of Gwendolyn Magee, an exhibit created in partnership between the High Point Museum, the UNCG Museum Studies program, and the North Carolina Humanities Council. Pieces of the Past will be on display at the High Point Museum until February 18, 2015. More information and pictures of Magee’s quilts can be found at

Pieces of the Past: The Art of Gwendolyn Magee exhibit on display
at the High Point Museum until February 18, 2015.
Image courtesy of Lisa Withers.