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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Daniel H. Pollitt, November 19, 1990. Interview L-0048. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Chapel Hill's liberal mystique limited measurable racial gains

Pollitt argues that Chapel Hill's liberalism caused racial complacency for whites. Because of Chapel Hill's liberal image and student activism, the town served as a breeding ground for provocative social ideas. However, town leaders and the local press viewed the push to integrate Chapel Hill's public accommodations as a symbol of Communist influence. As a result, civil rights gains were halted.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Daniel H. Pollitt, November 19, 1990. Interview L-0048. 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.

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That's an interesting point because several writers have remarked on the fact that Chapel Hill had such a liberal tradition which was a very big impediment in taking the desegregation further than it already had. People became complacent that weren't willing to go beyond what had already been done. Did you see that?
Well there's always, "We're the southern part of heaven" and that sort of thing and "We're great." And we have Howard Odum and we have Frank Graham we can comment about. Yes, it was a minority that wanted to integrate the town and we didn't. We didn't. We were unsuccessful. It wasn't the 1964 Civil Rights Act that integrated the community. I'm probably in the book because I wrote the ordinance on public accommodation which never passed. The tactic of the majority of the City Council was to, well, "This is sort of a last stage and let's not see if we can't do it some other way. Let's establish a commission of good folks to try and persuade everybody to reach a meeting of the minds." And Anne Queen would be on those committees is my recollection. And those were the people who had not been noticeable in the integration or in the anti-integration efforts. My Dean, at the time, Edward Randis, he was very adamant. He got very angry and he'd go to all the public meetings and he said, "This is anarchy. You cannot violate the law." He was a lawyer, you know. He said, "You're violating the law." And I would say, "Well, Martin Luther King says that you have to put your body in the struggle." "Well, then Martin Luther King should be arrested and put away." And Edward Randis was a spokesman for the Chapel Hill newspaper. But Edward Randis was great and the Chapel Hill newspaper kept talking about anarchy and Terry Sanford, our governor at the time. What happened there was that we had a lot of speakers come in. We had Roy Wilkins from the NAACP and we had an audience of fifty for him. But this was a stop over. Whenever northern people were touring the controversial areas, they'd come to make a stop at Chapel Hill. We had James Farmer who was the Executive Director of CORE. And the President was Floyd McKissick who was a Durham boy. But Farmer arrived and he gave his speech and it was in February as I recall, and there was snow, so they closed the Raleigh-Durham Airport. So, he was stuck here. What do you do with a notable who's stuck here. So somebody thought, "Let's have a press conference." So, they called a press conference. "Well, what's he got to say?" So, what he said was, "I'm going to throw the full resources of CORE into Chapel Hill unless they're integrated by the end of the week," or some such deadline. Well, the full resources of CORE consisted of Gordon Cary, who had already been here, if nothing else, you know. But that was the headlines. The News and Observer, WRAL, everybody, "CORE to target Chapel Hill. Throw all resources in Chapel Hill." So, then they asked Governor Terry Sanford, "What are you going to do about this declaration of war?" He said, "I'm going to resist it. I'm going to make sure Chapel Hill is safe." Well, the City Council immediately voted to buy an armored carrier of some sort which was a bread wagon they bought. I don't know what that was for. But at any rate, they were going to do it. And then the KKK said they were going to come in and protect the storekeepers and they were going to have a caravan down Franklin Street. And that was going to happen at the end of the month or something. I guess that was when they had the major sit-ins. And so the University students decided that they would paralyze the community. It was a Saturday afternoon and we were playing Wake Forest in basketball and Wake Forest was good at that time. They had Billy Packer. They had a very good team and we had a very good team and it was an important game and the gym was packed. Then when they went out, the sit-inners were on the streets at all the intersections. So, it was very peaceful. And you go and you pick them up and you carry them to the squad car and you take them down to the Police Station and then they are there until they put up the hundred fifty dollars for the going limp and the hundred fifty dollars for trespassing. And that was our big day. They had a hundred and fifty people or so arrested that day of whom a hundred and forty were University students and the other ten were professors. So, it was a very peaceful thing but it was not portrayed as a very peaceful thing. So now we got to do something. And the episode out at Watt's Grill which made the newspapers and that was a call for urgency. And the Anne Queen type committees would be appointed and recommend back. And then the trials began. A vicious judge was assigned here who gave speeches to the Four-H Clubs about the Communists in Chapel Hill that he was trying. It was very untraditional. And he said he was going to show them a lesson and he did.