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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Quinton E. Baker, February 23, 2002. Interview K-0838. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Atmosphere in Chapel Hill during desegregation

Though many whites in Chapel Hill considered themselves to be racially liberal, the town was desegregating very slowly, and the city government had decided that companies would desegregate on a voluntary basis. Baker says that part of the reason the town was targeted was to prove that voluntary desegregation would never work and instead, communities had to decide that racial equality mattered. After this passage ends, Baker briefly discusses the race and class prejudice still present in Chapel Hill.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Quinton E. Baker, February 23, 2002. Interview K-0838. 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

Chapel Hill was [pause] Chapel Hill for me as a community was important primarily because of my relationship that developed with Pat and with John, it wasn't about Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill for me was, a wine sipping, cheese eating, liberal community. [Laughter] A privileged liberal community
QUINTON E. BAKER:
That talked again about desegregation and believing in our cause, but disagreed with how we were doing things, so I wasn't engaged. My engagement in Chapel Hill was going to the campus being the token spokesman at various and sundry things. But I was not really intricately involved—
CHRIS McGINNIS:
To make them feel good about them being involved in the movement without them really taking actions.
QUINTON E. BAKER:
Yes, yes, yes.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
Okay, so—
QUINTON E. BAKER:
That is why we call them Chapel Hill liberals. [Laughter]
CHRIS McGINNIS:
So, yeah, talk a little more about Chapel Hill in general. What was your impression of Chapel Hill in the 60s when you were there? Apparently the police chief was somewhat, he was not as severe as other small towns in the south and in North Carolina.
QUINTON E. BAKER:
Chief Blake was a decent human being that was caught in a very difficult dilemma, that was caught in a culture and environment that he believed in and had to enforce, but he didn't want to treat us without some respect for what we were doing. I mean, we liked Chief Blake; we could sit down and have a conversation with Chief Blake. Chapel Hill was this community that professed all of this great liberal tradition and belief in all of the social justice things, but if you looked at what actually happened on the campus, looked at the number of African American students that were enrolled in the campus, looked at what was actually desegregated—sure it had more desegregation than any other southern community ever on a voluntary basis, but it was because certain key individuals in this community made it possible. The Danziger's integrated or desegregated their restaurants, they owned a number of restaurants, that gave Chapel Hill more places.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
The Danzigers always come up.
QUINTON E. BAKER:
Well, yes
CHRIS McGINNIS:
Dee Dee Danziger was very gay friendly.
QUINTON E. BAKER:
Well, but he was also you know, that was, his restaurants were all desegregated, so that that made, that created an environment for Chapel Hill. One of the reasons that Chapel Hill became a focal point in the civil rights movement, was because it was clear that for a southern community, it had voluntarily desegregated all it was going to do.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
Right, it had reached its point
QUINTON E. BAKER:
It had reached the point. And we knew in order for us to get a civil rights law that would eliminate segregation and public accommodation, we needed to point out that Chapel Hill was never going to voluntarily desegregate, which is what everybody was calling for at the time. Voluntary desegregation of the south, and we were saying, "It ain't gonna happen." [Laughter] And the way to demonstrate that was to target Chapel Hill, to make it a focal point of activity, okay?
CHRIS McGINNIS:
But, could you get a better foothold in some ways in what they [Chapel Hillians and the police department] allowed you to do, and also why was the strategy Chapel Hill again?
QUINTON E. BAKER:
Because really, what we really wanted to point out was that.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
The hypocrisy?
QUINTON E. BAKER:
No, that a community is only going to go so far in it's voluntary desegregation.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
Watch, we are going to poke it and it is going to start growling.
QUINTON E. BAKER:
And it is not going to go beyond that, okay? And that the only way that the south is going to desegregate is if you are going to have to legally force it to desegregate. You are going to have to make it illegal to have segregated facilities—
CHRIS McGINNIS:
You were making it an example.
QUINTON E. BAKER:
That is what we, yeah. Chapel Hill and the demonstrations in Chapel Hill and all of that activity was read into the congressional record when they were having to decide about a public accommodations law as evidence that the South was not going to voluntarily desegregate.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
So in what ways further did Chapel Hill not go far enough at the time, I mean, obviously, the restaurants were, there was a liberal flair, there—but you said that there were not enough African American representation.
QUINTON E. BAKER:
The theaters didn't.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
The movie theaters?
QUINTON E. BAKER:
The movie theaters didn't. A number of the restaurants didn't. Coswell Drug Store didn't. The Rockpile didn't.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
What was the Rock Pile?
QUINTON E. BAKER:
The Rockpile doesn't exist anymore, it was a Texaco Station on Franklin Street, right on Franklin and Estes, there used to be a grocery store there called The Rock Pile. It was a grocery store, and black people could not go in the grocery store and buy food. The Pines Restaurant—I mean there was enough—
CHRIS McGINNIS:
There was a little bit, but not—
QUINTON E. BAKER:
It wasn't open, the community was not open for the citizens that lived on the North side to fully take advantage of everything that was in the town, okay? The University had, god, very few students on the campus. There was no, one of the things that would have helped had been Chapel Hill had passed an ordinance desegregating the town itself. If it had voluntarily eliminated segregation in it's public accommodations, but it did not do that.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
It was just desegregating the city run agencies?
QUINTON E. BAKER:
It didn't—it didn't—things only happened on a voluntary basis, where it happened voluntarily.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
I see
QUINTON E. BAKER:
There was no, there was nothing legal.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
There wasn't a mandate.
QUINTON E. BAKER:
There was no mandate, at all. In spite of all the efforts to try to get a mandate from the town council and from Sandy McClamroch and those guys during the time, nothing happened. And all of the liberals from the University came and they—and everybody was trying. But, it was just the town. You still had the gap, and I think a lot of people didn't recognize the gap between the town and the academic community.