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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Blyden Jackson, June 27, 1991. Interview L-0051. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Experiences at UNC and obstacles to further faculty integration

Jackson speaks about his experiences at the University of North Carolina. While he argues that he did not "encounter any great wave of anti-Negro racism" when he arrived, he does indicate that there were lingering tensions regarding integration of the faculty. In light of those tensions, Jackson recalls conversations he had with Chancellor J. Carlyle Sitterson, who recognized that there were still faculty members who favored the Old Tradition and sought to limit integration of the faculty.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Blyden Jackson, June 27, 1991. Interview L-0051. 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

Let's come back to UNC. What was the experience at UNC? I guess you were here for fourteen years from '69 until about '83 as a full-time professor and also Associate Dean of the Graduate School. What was that experience like in terms of you coming on board as the first black faculty member? What kind of pressures? How did you react to the pressures or were there any pressures that you may have felt? How was the experience during those fourteen years plus?
Well, they weren't, in the sense that many people might often suppose there were pressures, there weren't any. I mean, I didn't encounter any great wave anti-Negro racism when I got here. I benefited from the fact that there were just nice people in the English department who actually bending over backwards, it seemed to me, to be sure that I knew that I was welcome in their department. The man that was head of the department at the time, Carroll Horris, was also a Michigan Ph.D. [Laughter] And a very fine chap and politically a liberal. There was no problem there. The chancellor when I came here was a man who certainly was anxious for me to get along, and that was Carlyle Sitterson. I don't want to say anything, and he might not want me to say, and yet I want to tell you this. 'Course we were living in adjoining houses, and sometimes we walked home together, not that often, but sometimes. And we talked. But I had a conversation in his office once, and I don't know whether he'd want me to tell it, but the subject of the black faculty did come up in that conversation. And I could quickly see, I thought, that he did have some concern less I should suppose that he was at all lukewarm in his attempt to expand the number of Negroes here. See, we didn't have any, except for wife and myself. [Laughter] We didn't have anybody. So he said something to me that I already knew. That at schools like UNC if professors, and especially the full professors, were not committed to a program, that program was in deep trouble. [Laughter] The head of the school might make all sorts of pronouncements and exert himself in all sorts of ways, but universities like Carolina are actually run—and maybe I shouldn't say this so openly—by the full professors. If you can't persuade them, if you're in the department of history, for example, and you can't persuade your full professors in that department to do a certain thing, you are up the creek without the paddle. I already had divined this. That what we had at Chapel Hill was a situation in which there was still left enough of what someone would call the "Old Tradition" to impede the recruitment of black faculty. It would not be an open thing. It would be subtle thing. Let us suppose someone in the department of mathematics—I'll just choose one—brought up a candidate. Said, "Here, we've found this black professor, and we'd like to hire him." Nobody would say, "We don't want him because he's black." But some of the people there would say, "Oh, we'd like to have him, but he's not qualified." [Laughter] "We've looked at his record of publication, and it's just not up to our standard." [unclear] You get the sort of thing. What had happened, I think, is that Sitterson was experiencing, finding departments that were doing this to him. So I could sympathize with him. I knew he was telling the truth. So I was on the Faculty, whatever they call it, Council, I think they call it here. And the Faculty Council set up a committee on the recruitment of black faculty. I'm trying to think of the fine young man that was here that chaired the committee. The committee had its meeting, and then when it appointed to the faculty, the annual report, the man who read the report was a genuine liberal. Not that every genuine liberal would do this. I'm not trying to impugn everyone. But he was also a member of the department of religion. So after he had presented the report, he could not restrain himself from adding his own speech to it, and in the course of this speech he did want seemed to me to be a thing that we shouldn't have had. He dwelled for some time on the sins of the University against Negroes in the past. Racism, the long standing racism at UNC. Well, whether or not that was true, and certainly there had been long standing racism, but some of the members of that Faculty Council were not only professors—you anticipate what I'm going to say—they were also alumni. [Laughter] And what was inevitable happened. After that man sat down, in the discussion which ensued, one or two of the alumni who were virtually livid with rage [Laughter] rose to say things. They weren't going to attack the report that openly, but to defend their university. I wanted to try to do what I could to get some of the poison out of this situation. So what I did was to wait until what I considered an appropriate moment and then made this little speech in which I said that I could understand how it's easy to think that you're not guilty of a certain prejudice. It's easy to do that. And it just happened that I had just gotten from my undergraduate school Wilberforce, it's latest thing that they send out to the alumni, and the feature of this brochure, whatever it was, was a description of the dedication of a building on the campus, the latest building on the campus, and it was called the Martin Luther King Building. And I said, "And when I saw the name [Martin Luther King], I got very angry." And then I waited a see, Martin Luther King is a Baptist." [Laughter]