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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Pat Cusick, June 19, 1989. Interview L-0043. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Cusick counters the image of a liberal UNC-Chapel Hill

Cusick captures a snapshot undergraduate life at the University of North Carolina. Class tensions distanced him from upper-class fraternity students. Moreover, Cusick dismisses the notion that Chapel Hill was a hotbed of liberalism. Instead, he viewed a lot of resistance to anti-war causes.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Pat Cusick, June 19, 1989. Interview L-0043. 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

PAMELA DEAN:
Did you get involved in University life, in extracurricular….
PAT CUSICK:
Not really, because I was working full-time, going to school full-time. I was working about forty hours a week. I developed a distaste for the fraternity-sorority system. For one of my jobs at Graham Memorial we rented out little portable pianos for the fraternity bashes, especially during the fall. Myself and another person, we had to move the pianos in and out of the fraternity houses. We were called names and stuff like that. I developed sort of an antagonistic mind-set toward the beautiful fraternity houses.
PAMELA DEAN:
Can you recall the names?
PAT CUSICK:
I don't remember exactly, but they were derogatory names. We were the hired help moving in the stuff.
PAMELA DEAN:
You clearly were not the sort they were going to recruit?
PAT CUSICK:
So I pretty much was uninvolved. I worked and had my own little circle. I formed a—God, the naivete of this—I had seen a leaflet of a group called the Student Peace Union. You needed five students to form a chapter. There were no chapters in the South. I formed a chapter. That was the start, because that was very controversial. We were the only thing left, if you want to put it in left-right terms, of the young Democrats. We were raising the issue of the Vietnam War… Jack Kennedy was president. We would have weekly sessions saying, "This is wrong, and it's going to get us into a major war." We were looked upon as extremely radical and caught a lot of abuse. Eventually the Daily Tar Heel did support us.
PAMELA DEAN:
Chapel Hill has always had this reputation. North Carolina is supposed to be the most liberal state in the South, and Chapel Hill is the hot-bed of liberalism in North Carolina. You are suggesting that you were not encountering anything that you or I would describe as liberalism?
PAT CUSICK:
No.
PAMELA DEAN:
Not among the students?
PAT CUSICK:
Definitely not.
PAMELA DEAN:
Except for a small handful that you personally had become acquainted with?
PAT CUSICK:
There had been the tradition so that we were able to debate. In order to get chartered as a student organization, and thereby be able to use the facilities around campus and actually even hold programs, you had to have a faculty advisor. So someone told me to go see Joe Straley. He and I have laughed about this since then. Joe was really hesitant. He said, "You're not going to be a radical group, doing things like picketing and things are you?" And we said, "No, this is just a discussion group." Joe had evidently caught a lot of hell previously at some point. He just did not want to go through a lot of stuff, but he felt he would be our faculty advisor. "Oh no, we're not going to do anything like that; no picketing or stuff." I did not foresee the events as they were to unfold. So Joe became our faculty advisor.
PAMELA DEAN:
He's in the chemistry department, isn't he? physics?
PAT CUSICK:
Physics.
PAMELA DEAN:
Had you taken any classes with anybody that made you aware that there were other people in the University?
PAT CUSICK:
No. I had taken a class with a physics professor who turned out to be very supportive, but I wouldn't have known it from his class. I didn't know him except for that. That was Wayne Bowers. They lived on Franklin Street, Wayne and Maryellen Bowers. They were very supportive of the Student Peace Union. Maryellen was, and I'm sure still is, a member, along with Lucy Straley, of the Durham-Chapel Hill branch of the Women's International League of Peace and Freedom (W.I.L.P.F.). They were very supportive of this very small peace group of ours and the Straleys. We then started talking about how we could be doing all this stuff about international peace when so much was happening right in the South. I went to Ocracoke Island off the coast and spent a week by myself in a tent, and that had a great effect on me. I went ahead with this peace group. It was a major step for me. Looking back, I wonder if that wasn't an easier step, obviously, than jumping right into the civil rights movement. I don't think I realized that. But then we did get involved in civil rights. There went the band wagon.
PAMELA DEAN:
You started out with a small group of people. Who were they?
PAT CUSICK:
Mike Putzel, who is now with the White House press corps. He was one of the initial five. He did not get all that involved with the civil rights part of it, because by that point he was writing for the Daily Tar Heel, and all the Tar Heel kids became stringers for the U.P.I., A.P., and that type of thing. We wanted them to, because they were sympathetic. Wayne King was in that category. Wayne was the Washington bureau chief for the Times. I think he is back in New York now. We talked on the phone once last year.
PAMELA DEAN:
That's four. You said you had to have five. Who's the other?
PAT CUSICK:
John Creel. I don't know what happened to him, and Lou Calhoun. I'm still in touch with Lou. He, like myself, was a white Southerner. John Donne is dead, I guess you know now. He died in '82. Joe Straley came up for his memorial service. We rode up to Vermont together where he lived. [interruption] It has shaped everything that has come after for me. That is why these charts are on the wall and stuff. It is very close to me in a lot of ways. I'm still schizoid about the state of North Carolina, and the University. I love it and I hate it. Of course, I think North Carolina is a schizoid state. It has very progressive elements and very right-wing elements, in a way that makes things exciting, because at least things are in flux.