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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 >>

Tensions between students and the administration during the food workers' strike

Davis describes tensions between students and between students and the administration during the 1969 food workers' strike at University of North Carolina. Davis explains how the Southern Student Organizing Committee (SSOC) worked with the Black Student Movement (BSM) to support the strike. The actions of the SSOC and BSM, however, were aggravating to conservative students and Davis discusses tensions between these different groups. In addition, Davis focuses on the role of Chancellor J. Carlyle Sitterson in the conflict. Above all, Davis stresses the fact that the strike became a "racial matter" almost immediately on campus.

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

Well, the strike progressed and finally, we got to one day where…we had students working with us on the strike, and these students belonged to SSOC, Southern Students Organizing Committee. And you know, this was a break-off of SNIC, and we had SSOC people working for us. And what was happening was that there were white kids who were intimidating the SSOC people who were working with us, in the dormitories. I mean, like, in Dorm and all, you had SSOC people handing out leaflets and you had students come out there and try to cram leaflets out the SSOC people's mouths and kick them off the floor and this kind of thing. And well, since these people were working with us, we couldn't allow that to happen to them, because like I say, people didn't want dangerous things. If it proved dangerous people would stop doing it. So, what we did, we would go up in the dorm and we would hand them out personally. We'd give our personal touch. We'd ask the people to take them personally. And people usually took them. And they took them personally. You know, after we had a few little discussions with people, then people got the idea that we didn't want them messing with the SSOC people working with us.
Well, why this early aggression toward the SSOC people?
Well, because I think that the nature of the campus at that time…I think that now, this campus has changed and part of it… some people say it's the drug culture, some people say it's a lot of things, but at that time, people cared a lot about things, even if it was negative things. There were a lot of guys who were conservative and they meant to be conservative. They were honestly conservative. They didn't like black students. They thought it was a privilege for black students to be here. Black students should come here and be assimilated. And we had submitted a list of demands to the Chancellor before, you know. All these things are going along at one and the same time. The demand, this hassle and this hassle, so, it was a merry old time. And you can see the whole structure of Carolina, how it dealt with it. Like I say, Chancellor Sitterson, he was just a man that didn't see it. He just did not respond. Now, the difference is this, we could go up there to Chancellor Sitterson, and Jack MacLane…you know how in the South, you know, in the old days, the good old days of the ante-bellum South, the white land-owners would choose a black who was extremely powerful, a bad man, and call him, "Nero" in fun, this would be a way to put a joke about him that would put him in his place, "Nero, bring me a piece of wood to throw in this fire, boy," That kind of thing. Well, Jack got the habit of calling Chancellor Sitterson, "Champ". Oh, whew, oh, man, you talk about flame on. We'd go up there to Chancellor Sitterson and Jack would say, "Well, Champ, I don't understand, what do you want to do…" and Chancellor Sitterson would just go out of his mind. Like I say, he wasn't prepared. This wasn't the kind of thing that he was very interested in. For one thing, I don't think that he was ready for minority problems. They had had the speaker ban disputes in years before, and stuff like this, but these kind of problems. People didn't even respect his office. I think that was the thing that really threw a lot of people. People still want you to remember that he is the Chancellor. So, if you go in there and say, "Chancellor Sitterson this, Chancellor Sitterson that…" and it did no good, it's still o.k. with him, because you are still remembering that he's the Chancellor. But people were so uptight at that time, generally pissed off at the University about the way they were treating the BSM, treating black people that were working in the cafeterias, it became a racial matter in essence. Because people began to see that the University really oppressed the black people. What few white people there were that were working with the black people in the cafeterias moved out and they moved up with the white people. See what I mean?
So, it was a racial matter before the BSM was ever involved?
Sure, I mean that it was racist in that you had the cafeteria workers that could not move up in the University hierarchy. They were not managers and you had these people sitting in the cafeterias working these split shifts. You had a Chancellor who, like I say, had a choice.