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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Daniel H. Pollitt, November 28, 1990. Interview L-0064-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Decision to work at UNC School of Law

Pollitt discusses his decision to accept a position at the University of North Carolina School of Law. After offering a brief history of the development of a modern law school at UNC, Pollitt explains that he would be one of only two professors hired since the 1920s. Over the course of the interview, he offers his thoughts on the faculty when he joined it in the late 1950s. Here, he focuses on his admiration of Van Hecke and indicates that Van Hecke’s career choices and his work with migrant workers made him feel that his interest in civil liberties would be well received at UNC.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Daniel H. Pollitt, November 28, 1990. Interview L-0064-2. 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

Then I came here and it was dogwood and redbud season, you know. And the air was so nice and I stayed with a professor at his house. Everybody here was so nice and obliging. I was the first one since Bill Aycock. This law school had a hundred years or more, but it really doesn't. And President Chase, after World War I…. After World War I, in 1920 we'll say, it had been…. You could come here for one year and you'd take the Bar and if you passed it, you were through. If you didn't pass it, you came back for a second year. So this was a two year law school which was really a cram course for the Bar. The faculty consisted largely of retired state Supreme Court judges. So President Chase in 1920 decided to have a modern law school. He would get people who knew the case method of instruction. He decided to get the best people he could and the salary was high. He decided to get the average of Harvard and Columbia and Chicago and that was the salary here. So the salary here was better than you could get anywhere else. He attracted a number of very good people, eight or nine or ten of them during the very early 1920's. And maybe two or three left. And in the late 1920's and early 1930's, like 1931, they hired two more. Then they hired Henry Brandis in 1937. Then they hired Bill Aycock in 1947. Then he became the Chancellor in 1957. Then they hired me and nobody had been hired really for ten years and before that between Henry Brandis which was for ten years. So when I came here in 1957, most of the people had been hired in the 1920's and they were very nice old gentleman, you know, who were all still very active doing things that I thought were very worthwhile.
ANN MCCOLL:
What kind of things were they doing?
DANIEL POLLITT:
Well, if you don't mind, let me run down. This building is the Van Hecke-Wettach Building. Van Hecke was the former dean for two terms or three terms and he was the first Kenan. When the University started the Kenan Chairs, he was the first one to get a Kenan Chair in the whole University.
ANN MCCOLL:
What is Kenan?
DANIEL POLLITT:
That means you're distinguished. So in any event, he met me at the airport when I arrived with his wife Jesse. And the airport then was much, much smaller and it was eight o'clock at night. We drove out of the airport and he turned the wrong way. We were almost to Raleigh before he decided that…. His wife Jesse kept saying, "You're going the wrong way." And he said, "No I'm not. I know how to drive. I've been here before." It was sort of pleasant, you know. And then we turned around and came here and we went to Herb Baer's house which is right up here on Gimgoole Street where I was to spend the night with him because his wife was away and we had hot chocolate and cookies waiting for me. So the Van Hecke's and Herb Baer and I had our refreshments and then to bed, you know. But the thing was I refused to take the oath.
ANN MCCOLL:
In Arkansas.
DANIEL POLLITT:
In Arkansas. And everybody knew and there was no question. I'm leaving because I won't take the oath. And so, "Why won't you say you're not in any subversive organizations?" Well, it was a matter of concern to people. So, in any event, that's what we talked about mostly in my interviews here. But Van Hecke told me an interesting story. He had come here very young, you know, three years out of law school or something, in 1922, maybe and he stayed here two years and then he decided he didn't like the dean who was Dean McCormick of McCormick and Evans. So he got a job at Kansas and they went out there. In 1924 there was the Presidential election and Lafollit of Wisconsin was on the ticket; he was the third party ticket. Every year the law faculty and the State Supreme Court judges would have a dinner party at the downtown hotel and they would wear tuxedos and the women would wear evening gowns. And at this particular year, they had a mock election; something to do. They marked their ballots and put them in the ballot box. It turned out that there were two votes for Lafollit. And the newspapers went crazy. Which of the State Supreme Court judges is secretly for Lafollit? And so Van Hecke admitted that it was he and his wife that had voted for Lafollit, whereupon he got fired. Then North Carolina offered him his job back and he returned. He had been the President of the American Association of Law Schools which was all the law schools maybe two years earlier, maybe in 1955. They'd investigated an academic freedom violation at Dickenson Law School and Van Hecke found there'd been a violation and told them to rehire the people and that sort of thing. But the guys didn't want to go back. One came to Arkansas and became a close friend of mine down there. But they wouldn't pay his transportation, so he called Van Hecke and Van Hecke got after Dickenson. He was really aggressive in protecting this guy's rights. Frank Graham was a good friend of Harry Truman's. Frank Graham was interested in the problem of migratory farm workers. So he told Truman that Truman ought to appoint a Presidential Commission on the problems of migratory farm workers. So he did and he made Van Hecke the chairman of that committee. It's a great study. It's really a great study. I had been the Chief Counsel for the farm workers, which is the migratory farm workers.
ANN MCCOLL:
When were you that?
DANIEL POLLITT:
When I was with Joe Rauh. So I'd known about Van Hecke and he was a very nice guy and he cared about people. He kept on, he taught equity which they don't teach anymore and labor law which he didn't particularly like and was glad to get rid of. But he was also the Chairman of the State Industrial Commission which deals with appeals when people are denied Workman's Compensation. That was part time, but he was the chair of that all the time he was here, so that's what he was doing. Now Wettach was the other name and Wettach was about the same age as Van Hecke.