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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Daniel H. Pollitt, December 13, 1990. Interview L-0064-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Student activism and the Chapel Hill movie theater protests

Pollitt describes some of his work on campus and in the community during the 1960s. As a leader of the student YMCA, Pollitt was involved in various student activities. In describing the psyche of southern students and their likelihood of becoming involved in community matters, Pollitt describes his work and the support of UNC students in the 1961-1962 demonstrations to desegregate Chapel Hill movie theaters.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Daniel H. Pollitt, December 13, 1990. Interview L-0064-3. 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

ANN MCCOLL:
What about activities and student organizations?
DANIEL POLLITT:
Well, somewhere in the late fifties and maybe the early sixties…. The fifties were supposed to be the "me" generation. You know, Eisenhower was the President and laid back. "Esquire" magazine had a series of articles in one issue, the fall issue which was the going back to school issue. So they had an issue on the student generation and I wrote the article…. They have one from the South and one from the Ivy Leagues and one from hither and yon and this was the Southern institution and I wrote the article on the current student generation. I spent a lot of time on it and sent out questionnaires. I was very active at that time in the YMCA here. Ann Queen took an interest and everybody did in "what is the apathy quota at UNC". My article that I wrote says that it's the same as always. We beat Duke or something or won the National Championship in basketball and everybody was excited, but they got excited about other things as well. But it needed something to spur them, but if something came along like school integration…. We had a lot of people at the Y who had gone to Dorothea Dix and they were starting the Big Sister and the Big Brother tutorial program because the little tots were going to the white schools for the first time and they needed somebody to help them with their math or whatever. So there was a lot of that going on. And a lot of the law students were involved in that. We moved into our house in 1960 and we had an apartment in our house for mothers-in-law. They are going to get old and they'll need a place and let's let them have their own kitchen and whatever. So we have an apartment in our house and neither of our mothers wanted to come here to visit or live upstairs with us. So we rented it to three law students. One was Jack Lewis who is now on the Court of Appeals. One was George Ragsdale who was on the Court and is now a big shot lawyer in Raleigh and was the chairman of our Board of Trustees. And Macky Redwine. So we had Jackie and Macky and George who were our three tenants. Jack was very active in the YMCA. George had been the President of the student body and he was the advisor to the student court or something and I remember that they started to integrate the theaters. They wouldn't let blacks in and there was an episode. Did we discuss this?
ANN MCCOLL:
No.
DANIEL POLLITT:
Shall I depart from the text?
ANN MCCOLL:
Sure.
DANIEL POLLITT:
Things happen. We had two theaters across from each other on Franklin Street and neither would admit the blacks. So if the blacks in Chapel Hill wanted to see a movie they had to go to Durham and in Durham they could sit in the balcony. They couldn't sit in the balconies here. So they had a movie come to town, "All God's Children Got Wings". That's not the name of it. "T'ain't Necessarily So." George Gershwin. Something about the crippled guy who has the goat wagon and that's about it. So the English teacher at the black high school wanted her class to see this famous movie, so she went to the theater owner, the manager, and said, "I'd like to take my English class and we'll sit in the balcony or we'll come after the last show on Friday or we can come Saturday morning before you start running the show or whatever." And the guy just said, "No. You can't come into my theater." So she went to her preacher who was Mr. Manley at the First Baptist Church and Manley took it up with the ministerial council and Bob Seymour of the Bickley Memorial and Charlie Jones of the Community Church got excited. And they went down to see the manager and asked him if they couldn't come and see this movie and they told them no. So we decided to picket the theater. And it would be a professor and a black high school student was what we tried to arrange for half hour stints. I was the first picketer with a little black high school girl. I had a sign that said, "Segregation t'ain't necessarily so." Some people came out of the bar across the street and it was 6:00 or something and they were going back to the fraternity court to have their supper and there was this picketer, two picketers, and they weren't going to bother the black girl. So I was sort of fair game. George Regsdale came along and said, "Leave him alone. He's my professor." Or something or other. And I was being nonviolent and silent, you know. In any event, George got involved and the student body got involved and we picketed those two theaters and people would…. You could pay the price of admission, which was a dollar and a half or something and get your name in an ad urging them to change it. We would have five hundred names, you know. And nobody went to the theaters. I got to be a Saturday night person when the movie changed at 8:30 or 9:00 or something. I had that shift and I would sit there and there wouldn't be more than five people on a Saturday night when the second show started. So after awhile they opened up.