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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ashley Davis, April 12, 1974. Interview E-0062. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Decision for food workers' strike and support of the Black Student Movement

Davis discusses the origins of the 1969 food workers' strike at University of North Carolina. Davis explains how the women who worked in the cafeteria, specifically in the Pine Room, decided that a strike was necessary. Upon doing so, they asked the leaders of the Black Student Movement (BSM) to support them. Davis explains how the BSM decided to do so and he emphasizes their role of support, stressing the fact that the leadership of the strike was in the hands of the workers.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Ashley Davis, April 12, 1974. Interview E-0062. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

All right, so then, they told us one day that they were going to go on strike and we had a meeting upstairs in Lenoir Hall, at the north end of Lenoir. This was a place up…it's an art studio now…and we all took our dinners up there and ate dinner and the ladies and Preston, Mrs. Smith and all of them were there, and they were saying that we were going…Mrs. Brooks from Hillsborough, said that "we want to go on strike and we want the BSM to help us and we want to start it tomorrow." And they made it quite clear, too, and let me make it clear, this was not a BSM led strike, we did not lead those strikes. Those people asked us and there was a vote taken, as I remember, a vote as to whether or not we would assist them in the strike. No time during the strike, and I would like to make that very clear, because I think that people tend to think otherwise, the leadership rested, and you'll see that later on in other consequences, I think, with the people in the cafeteria. And I think that this is the way we wanted it and this was the only equitable way for it to be.
Well, they askeus the next day, I think that it was a Saturday or Sunday, would we come into the Pine Room and to slow service. And this would start the thing out. So, the next day in the Pine Room, we came in and slowed service to the point where they had to close the Pine Room that day. The ladies wouldn't work, the ladies came from behind the counter and people were standing around and they had to close the Pine Room. Then there were other meetings held to determine what type of strategy would be followed. So, for a while, you know, it mainly became a strategy of strike. You know, just march, march, march, march. Just marching around.
Can I ask a question right now, about the beginnings of it? Do you think they would have struck without the guidance of say, Otis Light or other leaders?
I have no idea what Otis did with people. I know that he was not working when they started because I think that the funds he had gotten, by that time, they weren't there anymore. And I'm not sure where the funds came from. They might have come from certain individuals, whatever, you know. You'll have to ask Preston Dobbin about that. I'll tell you, I might do you a favor, too. I'm going to Michigan and I might ask him for you. So, when the thing got started…and another question I think that is parallel, is do you think that the ladies would have gone without BSM? That, I really don't know. I know that people were really fired up. They might have gone, but I really don't know. It's really hazy and I would only be guessing. Like I say, you don't know whether they would or wouldn't, if people had voted not to support the strike. But, a meeting was held and the formal group was asked at this meeting there upstairs, would they support the strike, and they said "yeah."
So, when the BSM originally came in, they had no idea that there was necessarily going to be a strike. What kind of role did they see themselves playing?
Well, in terms of roles just as helpers. What could we do to help. O.K. And this is what came out in this meeting. People were going to picket the cafeteria, this kind of thing, so therefore, they wanted the BSM members to picket the cafeteria, collect money in support of the thing, just to support the general strike. People were told at this meeting that there was going to be a strike, but it had been intimated to people earlier that there was a strike being planned and all.