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

Impact of state trooper presence on campus during food workers' strike

Davis discusses tensions that resulted on campus from the presence of state troopers during the food workers' strike of 1969. Following a skirmish between students in the cafeteria, Governor Terry Sanford had sent in state troopers to try to control the situation. According to Davis, this decision actually tipped support more in favor of the striking food workers because people were discomforted by the presence of state troopers on campus. Davis describes how the resulting tensions surrounded efforts to discipline members of the Black Student Movement.

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

So, while this was going on, we got us a record player and we were over in Manning and we were laying it on them, "don't eat in the pig pen with the pigs" and all this kind of good old action. And oh, by the way, the governor called the Chancellor on the telephone and said, "I don't care what you said about that building, I want those students out of there." So, the Chancellor didn't want to look real bad, he didn't want to go back on his words, I guess. He didn't want to use force. So, what he did, he sent campus police over every night to come through the building and what they would attempt to do was to catch the building at one time…and they would come through there and lock doors systematically as they through and if they could catch that building empty, they would lock it up. You see what I mean? And lock people out and then arrest anybody that tried to break back in. See, that was the strategy, to lock you out. So, we had to keep black students in there twenty-four hours a day, so we slept over there. A lot of us slept over there in order to keep the police from coming in and throwing people out. O.K., so like I say, this kind of generated things and we got more white kids involved, more involved in what was going on. Finally the decision came up, the thing came to a head. While all this was going on, by the way, let me tell you what was happening. The University, it was planned, certain things had been planned. Like when we got arrested at Lenoir, after Lenoir, warrents were being prepared and over in the PoliSci Department and over in the Institute of Government, strategy was being planned. "How can we punish these students and satisfy some people in Raleigh, but at the same time, not anger a lot of other people in North Carolina." Either way it was a touchy situation. "How can we punish these students involved in this cafeteria thing in a way that won't cause our normally passive faculty and staff to get up on end. If we punish these kids too hard, it might cause problems." This was the way that we saw it. It might cause a general strike, and that would be a problem. "And we have seen what has happened already by being inactive and not doing some things generally with these kids. We've seen what kinds of problems happened, so we need to do something." All right, so what they did, they worked on the strategy, and the word that come from Raleigh was that we were supposed to be arrested. That was the word from Raleigh, "You arrest." Now, a couple of things they said. First of all, "Clear them kids out of Manning." I told you what his first strategy was. Second thing was, "Arrest those people in that cafeteria strike. Because no blacks in North Carolina are going to go up there and take over a state university cafeteria." I can see that echoing in the old halls of Raleigh right now. That was part of it. So, like I say, the people at this end were faced with the problem of how they could keep trouble from escalating. So, the word I got was that there was a strategy being planned and warrents were being drawn up over this period of time. This is right after the cafeteria strike and on. So, we had gone on for awhile for then, so finally, they really had the strategy and they had a big day they had planned and everything. So, what they did, on the morning of this particular day, the Chancellor of the University called Julius Chambers and told him that he ought to come to Chapel Hill. This is what I understand. The attorney. Because certain parties are going to be arrested. All right, the Chapel Hill police were out in battallions to serve some warrents. And I mean, they were in full battle dress to serve these warrants, by the way. I think they served ones to six people. All this is in one day now. I was in class that day. I had gone to class and a lot of white kids and everybody, and what the police had done… I didn't even know it was going on, but when I got out of class, the State Troopers had Manning completely surrounded, see. We kept hearing noise and the kids pushing in and the State Troopers, "Get back, get back." You know. So, what had happened, this is when they took over the building. My understanding is that Howard Fuller just happened to be over here, I don't know how he was here. Somebody called him, or he showed up, I don't know what on that day. But Howard Fuller was going in and everybody made the assumption that the brothers in the building were going to stand there and try to hold the building against the armed with guns State Troopers. Which was foolish. I mean, this was foolish. People wondered what in the world…they laughed about that. That's foolish. You think we were going to stand out there and get shot? It's one thing to stand out there with some canes and all and talk junk with the police, I mean, all he's got is a stick and all you've got is a stick and ya'll out there battling. Now, we had one morning when we thought that the police were going to try and… and this is where I say that the tactics of making the legal illegal was first used on the strike when they had a group of people and what they would do, they closed off their end of the cafeteria and we came out, we were around at the northern end at this part, where you enter at that little back door at the side, marching. They said that we were marching too far out and they wanted to close us in to march some. So, they kept closing in the march and closing in the march. Well, it gets to a point where you can't close in the march anymore, because the people involved in the march. Well, this is where the illegality comes in. So, a guy comes out with a megaphone and says, "Well, you marching there, I'm only going to tell you one more time, don't go out of the marching area." You couldn't understand the guy. "What we say is this," is what he was saying, "when we see the opportunity, we're going to beat you." And you could look down the street and you could see the police cars sitting like this, you know, one on one side of the street and one on the other and if you have watched any movies about New York City, you know that when that happens… they had pulled the police cars down, they had barricaded all around the area, so when we went out there, we said, "These cats, man, they want to beat some ass this morning. They want to beat somebody." So, we went on into Manning and looked out and we wouldn't come out there. Anyway, so when I got out of there, I went running over to the middle of campus and there were a lot of students standing around in the middle of the campus. Things had really kind of come to a head and we found out that some warrants had been issued for some arrests and some of the kids who had heard that there were some warrants out for them had already kind of been ducked out and they went over to Michael Katz's house, who was an attorney, a law instructor in the Law School. And we all sat around at his house waiting for Chambers, who we found out the Chancellor had called already to come to Chapel Hill.