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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Harvey E. Beech, September 25, 1996. Interview J-0075. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Emotional memories of the overt racism at UNC during desegregation

In this emotionally charged passage, Beech describes the embarrassment he felt when UNC officials told him to return his swim card, providing him access to the pool. At his graduation, Beech discusses how students ostracized him based soley on his race. However, the commencement speaker, Governor Kerr Scott, urged the predominately white graduates to accept social changes.

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

...The next time we went back to school, I think they had to give you a physical exam. I got in line like everybody else, and I ended up with a swimming card. Kenneth and the other two black students were in a room by themselves being examined. I just followed the line; I got a swimming card. So when I got to the room, dormitory, I said, "What happened to you guys?" They said, "Well, we had a special doctor to examine us." What happened to me, I said, "I just followed the line." To get the blue card, did they give you a blue card, it had a kind of heavy card with a little hole in it? So, about three weeks later, the President, the dean of the law school, Dean Brandis, sent for me out of class to come to his office downstairs and said, "Mr Beech, Chancellor House has asked me to ask you, would you return that swimming card that they gave you by mistake." And I said, " What?" He said, "Now listen, I'm not asking you to do it, I'm just carrying this message, he told me to do it." I said, "What mistake was it?" He said, "I'll tell you what they said. They said they thought you were from Brazil, that's why you got a card." I said, "That's a damn shame. To be a native son." [sobbing noise] It bothers me now, I hate to talk about it. [sobbing]
Would you like me to pause the recorder for you?
It hurts me right now to think about how bad they cheated people, and how they're cheating them now! Haven't done anything wrong. And they still say, and they'd rather see a Brazilian who have never paid any dues yet. You have students and these Chinese, Germans, Japanese! I don't understand that today. I don't understand it. I get emotional about it; I get upset about it. I don't understand right now. And I never- [pause] . Let's change the subject. I can't deal with that one, even now. It's been forty years ago; I just can't see it. I pray about it. And it's still here, it's still here, prejudice. Racism is still here, there's a lot of prejudice today. Don't you let anybody fool you about it. I never could understand that. A native son who'd never been in trouble, father worked hard, paid taxes, been to school, and you'd rather see a Brazilian or a Mexican or an Indian or a Japanese to get a swimming card or go to school than you'd see your own. In North Carolina. There is no test for right and wrong on that one, is there? Well, when will these people learn? And it's still happening today! After I started practicing law, and the judge was--still smoking cigarettes back in those days, and he, and they'd go back in the chambers, and he said, "That burr-head nigger." The guy who was being tried, it wasn't my case, or anything. And somebody pointed at me, and he forgot because I had a little old light-skinned face. You know, he just overlooked it. "That burr-head nigger." You know. He wouldn't have said it had he realized that I was there and I was black. He knew me, but he just forgot. Old buddy joke. Old burr-head nigger." And he's supposed to be issuing out justice. You know, come on, pal. It's still there. That's why I can't understand people like Clarence Thomas, talking about everything's all right. It ain't. He's got the right name, Tom. No kidding. They named him right. That's about the only thing they did that was right. No affirmative action, no this that and the other. [noise] After going through all that we've just finished discussing, Anita, I finally had done enough to become a graduate at law school, and I thought everything was over then. And I guess you might know or recall that the graduation, they march in, each school marches in in twos in alphabetical order. And as we were lining up to go into Kenan Stadium that night in May, my "B" partner found out that I was--who I was, Black, and he refused to walk with me into the stadium. And somehow, the word got back, all the way back to the R's, and I had a friend named Mike Ross who was editor-in-chief of the Law Review. He came up from his "R" partner and walked in with me with the "B's." And when we got inside the stadium that night, Governor Carl Scott, Bob Scott's daddy, was the commencement speaker. And everything was dark except the lights around the stand, so you could see where to go and on the stage itself, where he was. And the first thing he said was, after people were seated, "Never in my life before have I ever seen so many intelligent people sitting in the dark." Never in my life before have I ever seen so many intelligent people sitting in the dark. He said, times are changing, and it's changing here tonight, and you might as well get ready for it. A great change is happening here tonight. You can expect it to come. You might as well get out of the dark and get into the light. He was talking about the transition to the future. I was quite impressed with what he said and the way he said it. Because that was the first time Blacks had ever doffed a cap and gown at Carolina. The first time. And I don't have a whole lot of appreciation for it, because I never have understood why it had to be a first time. I never, still don't understand why I wasn't entitled to go to Carolina instead of going to Morehouse. I was, had been, a Tarheel bred and a Tarheel born, you know, but I couldn't go. [background noise] OK?