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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 >>

Confrontation between students during the food workers' strike

Davis continues his discussion of how the food workers' strike manifested itself in tensions between students at University of North Carolina. In particular, Davis focuses on an incident when the Black Student Movement (BSM) and the Southern Student Organizing Committee (SSOC) had caught wind that conservative white students were going to begin physically harassing the food workers and the students who supported them. In response, the BSM and SSOC demonstrated their unwillingness to back down during a brief skirmish in the cafeteria. According to Davis, this was one of the very few instances of "violence" between students during the strike.

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

One day, what happened in Lenoir, it finally came to a head, because we had our people, something started in there and some football players came into the cafeteria and they began to…I think that it started out because we had SSOC people and some other people sitting in the cafeteria, just sitting in chairs, occupying seats. They would go up and buy a drink, or some crunch, or some dessert or something, just sitting in the seats. And we did fill half the cafeteria like that. And we had the cafeteria closed for awhile, and then they reopened and we had this other thing with people sitting in there and we were still picketing out around the cafeteria and going in the mornings and stuff. And then the major development that happened then, it got real bad when these football boys, and some other people, as I understand it, were going to eject some of the SSOC people and that came to a big head. It came down to the case where we understood that some white students were going to band together and attack us, like at Manning as such. You know what I mean?
RUSSELL RYMER:
The BSM?
ASHLEY DAVIS:
Yeah. Well, attack, like individually, that's what I mean. This is what we came to understand. And see, the way the University was handling this situation, the campus police, and the white students, and I still say this today, the white students could do about anything. Without question. It is my firm belief that if some white students attacked some black students and beat that black student to death… look at James cates there. The University did nothing at all. I remember that even we had a hassle later on about that because if they had a list of black people in Chapel Hill that they wouldn't let come on campus and the names of the Storm Troopers wasn't up there. Now, we asked Dean specifically why those names weren't up there. In that one instance, I'm just trying to pick for you how…the administration then, you had in there as Dean of Students, and Dean , you'll get to see him in a minute, he really just was not responsive at all. His background was as a preacher and he just wasn't responsive. The University hierarchy was not responsive. Not at all. It didn't want to deal with the problem. It just wanted to forget the problem. Well, you don't forget problems, let me tell you. So, we came into the cafeteria, we came in there and we were pretty mad. We were told that these people were going to start some trouble and we were pretty mad. So, we went through from one end to the other end and just cleared the old cafeteria, a few tables flying and the campus police were there, and they stood there.
RUSSELL RYMER:
Would you really call it violence, though?
ASHLEY DAVIS:
In terms of the system, sure it was violent. We didn't hurt anybody, we didn't plan to hurt anybody. We just wanted to let people know that we weren't going to let the people from SSOC, who worked with us, be hurt. We weren't going to let cafeteria workers be hurt, we had heard at that time that there were certain students who…and I believe that we had students with that mentality then and now, who would hurt a worker. Because I don't think that students really even attempted to understand. A lot of stuff was just plain reaction and the reaction is, "I'm not going to let you blacks come up here and take over our University. We were doing so well before you got here and we'll do well when you leave here. So, you're fortunate to be here, …" I think that's the main thing, the "fortunate to be here" part. It doesn't matter if your taxes are paying for it, or that the University is taking over black man's land through escheats or other things, it doesn't matter. "You are lucky to be here." And this attitude, I think it just prevailed on the whole campus, if not outwardly, then inwardly. Well, so we went through and a few chairs were thrown and tables were overturned and all the white students who were down there to make a big stand with pitchers and stuff, moved back out. O.K., and that was all. We came back through the cafeteria and went back over to Manning Hall.
RUSSELL RYMER:
So, there was actually a confrontation down there?
ASHLEY DAVIS:
It wasn't really a confrontation. The white kids didn't try to confront us. I think that what happened, the white kids, and I found this to be true at that time, that white people really bothered me so much then and I could hardly understand it, that they could be so insensitive to things and to have such great egos. I mean, they just would tear me up. How can people so insensitive, I mean, you can tell that there was real racism involved, people going into that cafeteria early, and people serving them food and stuff, and they don't even see them. For some of them, the people serving them in that cafeteria might as well be robots. They weren't even human to these people. And then that ego, "what are you doing to our University?" "Why do you students want to do this?" "Don't you know why you come to school?"