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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with J. Carlyle Sitterson, November 4 and 6, 1987. Interview L-0030. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Complexities of faculty desegregation at UNC

Sitterson discusses the hiring process for black professors at UNC. Although blacks gained employment opportunities, in the desegregated South, they continued to face discriminatory employment practices. Individual departments petitioned school officials to hire black faculty. Although Sitterson endorsed recruitment of black faculty, the Board of Trustees resisted the efforts to integrate the university, creating tensions between Sitterson and his superiors.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with J. Carlyle Sitterson, November 4 and 6, 1987. Interview L-0030. 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

J. CARLYLE SITTERSON:
Well, what I would do… Well, I would, of course, inform them. If I were keeping it a secret, that would be a terrible thing to do. If the Administrative Office said I wasn't informing [them]… Because this was a clear-cut issue. This wasn't something that people weren't aware of. The first appointments weren't at the rank of full professor. They were at lower ranks. The first one was at the School of Social Work which is not so surprising. Then we had some in the medical area. The first black full professor who was appointed to the faculty was Blyden Jackson, professor of English. He was appointed as a full professor. We never got many, as indeed you can see right now with all the discussion that goes on, and there are a lot of reasons for that. One, and the most important reason quantitatively, frankly, is the shortage of qualified black professionals, particularly in certain fields. Another one is the faculty's own determination to be absolutely certain that when they appoint a black faculty member that that black faculty member is one who really qualifies in a competitive way. Whether or not they're completely unbiased in that is a different question. It's something you can't, can't get into their minds. I think on the whole we've been kind of fortunate in history in some of the black faculty we've had, but again, we have had, in a sense, to do sometimes injustice to whites in respect to salary and status because the plain fact of the matter is that if you want highly-qualified blacks, they're in very short supply. We have to beat the market. I was amused last night. I was looking at television; I was looking at L.A. Law. Do you ever look at that?
PAMELA DEAN:
Yes, I watch that also.
J. CARLYLE SITTERSON:
Do you see that this is exactly, I thought to myself, there it goes, the same thing over again. In order to get this black lawyer, they would pay him ten or twelve thousand more than people who are better qualified.
PAMELA DEAN:
Or at least who didn't happen to be black.
J. CARLYLE SITTERSON:
That's right. That's correct. So that's an illustration of what I was talking about. Probably one of the biggest hassles I had with the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees involved the appointment, well, there were two. One involved the appointment of Howard Lee to the School of Social Work faculty. Howard was a public figure. At that time he was running for mayor I believe, and the School of Social Work, the Dean, came in to talk to me about making an appointment for him. He did not have a Ph.D degree, a doctorate degree, and first the school proposed to appoint him at a rank above people who were already there and who had superior qualifications. Well, I said I wouldn't agree to that because I thought that was unwise policy, but I would agree to appointment at an appropriate rank and salary, and so we agreed on that. Then that got into the public domain, somehow or another, before it was even accomplished. I don't know who put it in the public domain. I don't know whether some people in Social Work did or somebody got it and decided they'd put it in the public domain, you know. These things go on in universities all the time. So one of the members of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees came to see me and told me that I should not take that to them and not make this appointment. Well, you see, that's the kind of thing that you really shouldn't have at a university, an individual member of the Board trying to…
PAMELA DEAN:
To dictate.
J. CARLYLE SITTERSON:
Yes, to dictate, or that kind of thing. So then I talked to another member of the Executive Committee who, while not particularly approving of the decision to do it, was cognizant of the situation and wanted to try to find a way that we could… So finally it really got down to the point that it was known that it was going to come before the Executive Committee at a given time, and I decided myself, in this case, that rank was, I think we would make a rank of lecturer or something like that, would not have been required, but I decided that it was prudent for me not to bypass them since it was in the public domain. So I put it before the Executive Committee. Now, I didn't know what the Executive Committee would do about it. But, of course, I presented it and defended the appointment. But it was all in the public domain, over radio and television and press and everything else while this was going on. Because that illustrates what I was just saying about the process of integration. The desegregation of institutions was a complex one involving different elements and different stages and so on that went on over a period of time and is still going on, of course, and changing mores and so on. That was one illustration in which, in a sense of the faculty, in this instance the faculty of the School of Social Work, had in a sense presented the University with, as they saw it, no problem at all. I mean, this was a man who, as they saw it, qualified to do this and would be a valuable staff member, and these other instances that were matters of the public domain were not their concern. Now, another incident, again involving the School of Social Work, involved a black activist. Again, this shows how my memory, I can't call up these names so quickly. Howard Fuller, I think Howard was his first name, anyway, his name is Fuller. He was a professed black activist, but nevertheless, he had certain qualities and experience that would make him useful for the School of Social Work. The Dean, again, did me the courtesy, I guess you would call it courtesy, to come in and tell me that they had decided they would like to make this appointment, and they wanted to know what the University would do about it. Well, I said, "If the School decides to bring that appointment to the Chancellor, we will consider it on its merits, just as we would any other appointment." And I said, "But you must be aware that this is not an appointment that will be viewed by everybody as just like any other appointment."
PAMELA DEAN:
It's not just going to be routine.
J. CARLYLE SITTERSON:
That's right. It's not going to be routine when some other people get to examine it. Lo and behold, the Department did come to me, and as I do with any, and as I presume Chancellors still do when we want to get some faculty consideration, we take it to the Advisory Committee and let them examine the ramifications and so on of it. We did that, and then we took it to the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees. And I'm telling you, it precipitated one of the [most] bitter discussions on that issue.
PAMELA DEAN:
Was it because he was black or because he was an activist?
J. CARLYLE SITTERSON:
I think it was primarily because he was an activist but the association of the two certainly didn't help it any. But again, that went through.
PAMELA DEAN:
Did they ever turn down?
J. CARLYLE SITTERSON:
Never turned down. But the thing is, I said, "Nobody knows how much prestige and influence I lost by that." See, that's not something you can put, it's in the public domain. In other words, I knew good and well that the Executive Committee, or that many members of it, let's put it that way, I don't mean to imply that it was a unanimous view because that certainly was not true, but certainly in the view of a substantial number, they didn't have much use for what I was going to do from that point on.
PAMELA DEAN:
This had been a white man's University since it was established…
J. CARLYLE SITTERSON:
As most all American universities were.
PAMELA DEAN:
Exactly. And you were involved, you had to be the point man for the changes.
J. CARLYLE SITTERSON:
I happened to be there at a certain time when certain great social changes were under way.