Social challenges faced as one of the first black students at UNC
Beech discusses the challenges he faced as one of UNC's first black students. He contends that passivity and negotiations proved ineffective when confronting segregation. Blacks must be forceful to effect change. In one particular instance, Beech confronted UNC's chancellor, Robert Burton House, over his right to sit anywhere at a football game. The local press reported that Beech cursed out the chancellor.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Harvey E. Beech, September 25, 1996. Interview J-0075. 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
- HARVEY E. BEECH:
Lenoir, yeah. Nobody even told us where we could get food. We had to ask
for that. And you go in. We made a decision that we would not sit near
anybody. We'd go over on the end, and to know your friends,
those who might have been well-wishers, you had to go away and let them
come to you. To show their intent to help, you know. And, but nobody
ever told us where to go eat. We had to find that out.
One day we were, Kenneth and I were coming out of Lenoir, and at the
Institute of Government they would train the sheriffs and the policemen
and stuff, and it had a wire, said "don't walk on
the grass," and a brick walk, I think. And we saw three
sheriffs, deputy sheriffs with their guns on, standing broadside in
front of us, with their arms close to each other, as if to say,
"niggers, don't come this way." And I
remember it as if it were yesterday. I said, "Kenneth, you see
what's in front of us?" and he said, yes. I said,
"You ready to die?" He said, "Yep, if need
be." And we walked within ten inches of their faces, and they
parted like the waters of the Red Sea.
But you had to challenge every damn thing there was, in order to remove
it. You couldn't stand back and negotiate, you had to just
challenge it. And we were ready to die. I was, and he was, too.
Everywhere you went there was some obstacle, you
know. And you had to just tear it down. It's hard for you to
imagine. You know, this was before you were born.
It was, you know, you get tickets to go to the football game, and the
chancellor himself tells you, "Young man, I know you all
didn't come over here to go to the football game. You all
came to go to law school." And I didn't say
anything. Somebody said, I think one of them said, one of the fellows
said, at that time we had three or four--"Yes,
that's right, Mr. House." I said, "Well,
wait a minute." I said, "He's speaking for
himself." I said, "Mr. House, don't give me
a ticket." He said, "Why?" I said,
"Because if you give me a ticket, I'm going to sit
any damn place I want to." I said exactly that. And I think Mr.
House told somebody what I said, and it came out in the paper. Roland
Giddeons was the fellow with the Durham Herald. Roland might be in
Durham or Chapel Hill now. He printed it, as if to say, Harvey Beech
cursed out the chancellor. I didn't. I just said I would sit
any damn place I wished. That was the truth.
And, we did. We went with some other students, some White students, and
we sat on the fifty-yard line. First time I'd ever seen
anybody with cards playing card tricks. You know, you'd sit
on the cards and you'd say "hello" and all
this. Morehouse didn't have anything like that. But
everything was a challenge...