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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Floyd B. McKissick Sr., May 31, 1989. Interview L-0040. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Difficulties of becoming the first black student at UNC

McKissick reflects on the harassment he endured and the difficulties of forging interracial friendships as the first black law student at UNC. He realized that to counteract racism, he and whites must forcefully resist racial discrimination and verbal taunts.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Floyd B. McKissick Sr., May 31, 1989. Interview L-0040. 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

What was your experience as the first black students, along with the other black students, at the University of North Carolina?
Well, some of the students did not live on the campus. I was one of the ones that lived on campus in a cubicle up there at Steele Hall, I think. I was also a working student and I waited tables at a place called the Barlett House. And working at the Barlett House out there I would work in the evenings. My job would start at about five o'clock and it would be over with around about one or two o'clock at night, and then I'd come in and go to bed and get up. So consequently, sometimes I was the only black student on the campus. I was the only black there many a day. And at first, there was an honor system in existence then. No doors were locked, and I didn't lock my doors. I stayed in a cubicle where the other black students were supposed to stay and did stay sometimes during the day time. Many of them didn't want at night. So I was along there. And they would come in and they'd put a black snake in my drawer, a dead black snake, in my drawer on my shirts. They would put water on your clothes. Put a bucket of water over your door to trick you. When you come in, you opened the door, a bucket of water would fail. Because see, no doors were locked. They would be half-way or partially open. They had a lot of fun with you. They thought they were having fun. You'd get a letter every day from the Klu Klux Klan telling you that you're at the wrong place and what's going to happen to you. You had a lot of threats. I, however, didn't let the threats bother me too much. And when I came in, I'd study. And classes started, I think, at 7:30 or 8:00, I would be in my class, and I'd be ready to go. And then that summer, I think that things were segregated around the campus. I had to establish my right to eat in Steele Hall dining room. That was Lenoir Hall, I think, dining room. After two or three kids knocked the trays out of my hand, I went through the line one day and made the big announcement that I intend to eat today, and I don't intend to let anybody knock any tray out of my hand anymore. I can't afford it in the first place. And I walked through that line and didn't nobody say nothing. And I stopped all that. I let them know.
Let me ask you sir, do you recall any other segregated facilities after the technical desegregation of the University? For example, was sitting at the library segregated or anything of that sort?
Never had any trouble sitting at the library. There were some incidents of some of the kids went to the swimming pool to swim and they wouldn't let them in, and I told them this pool was going to get integrated today, and I just went on and jumped into the pool. After I jumped into the pool, I walked on out and nobody said anything to me and I said nothing to anybody else. I said, "It's integrated now." And that was it. No one ever said anything to me about it or anything. I got soaking wet but it was so hot that day that I got dry. But that was about all that occurred.
Do you recall any of the students, faculty, or administration who were supportive besides the people that you mentioned, or people who gave you continued support once you arrived there?
The lady is Anne Queen who was at the Y, who certainly gave us support the whole time. There were a number of students. Don't forget the pressure was on many of the white students that would try to treat us nice, were called "nigger lovers." But there were always a group of whites there who wanted us there, and who tried to help us out in many ways. But they were under a great amount of pressure, and some evenings they would come by and talk to me. When I got there late at night, quite often there would be somebody to talk to me, so long as no one was around to harass them, call them a "nigger lover" for their associating with me. That was one of the major problems that was going on any time someone would try to befriend you or threat you nice and pick up a book for you. There would always be a little choir around to holler, "Nigger lover, nigger lover, nigger lover," and that stopped many of the whites from trying to do anything.