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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Daniel H. Pollitt, February 15, 1991. Interview L-0064-4. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Charlie Scott breaks the color line in UNC athletics

Pollitt describes his role in helping to recruit Charlie Scott to UNC. In 1966, Scott became the first African American student to attend UNC on athletic scholarship. Pollitt explains how as the faculty advisor to the NAACP he had been striving to introduce more African American role models to campus. Scott describes how UNC took notice of Scott and how he worked with Dean Smith to recruit him. In addition, the passage sheds light on various aspects of African American education in the South by way of Pollitt's detailed description of the prep school Scott attended in Laurinburg, North Carolina.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Daniel H. Pollitt, February 15, 1991. Interview L-0064-4. 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

But then Charlie Scott was "Mr. Big". He was the number one high school star that everybody wanted and he was from New York City, but attending Laurinburg Institute.
ANN MCCOLL:
In Virginia?
DANIEL POLLITT:
No, it's in Laurinburg, North Carolina, down on the South Carolina border. Scotland County.
ANN MCCOLL:
Is it a high school?
DANIEL POLLITT:
It's a prep school and it's a very interesting one in that the…. I forget the headmaster's name, but it's something like McLaurin or McDuffy. The founder of the institute had gone down to Tuskeegee Institute when George Washington Carver or Booker T. Washington was the President. What the emphasis was was on how to be good farmers for the men and how to be good housewives for the women and you know, sanitation and cleanliness and promptness and honesty and all the virtues. So Mr. McDuffy, if that was his name, returned when he graduated from Tuskeegee; came up to Laurinburg which was his place and started a little institute to teach the black farmers how to farm better and the women how to do household chores and skills and crafts. In any event, in World War I a number of blacks in the South went north to work in the defense plants and the male, the men, the husband would go and then when he found a place and had some money, he'd send for his wife and then he'd send for the kids. Well, that left the wife and the kids and the Institute became the school for the kids.
ANN MCCOLL:
So this was early.
DANIEL POLLITT:
Yes. This was World War I we're talking about now and it was an ongoing thing. Then if there was a depression in the north and the husband was laid off, he would send the kids back to grandma and then the wife, and he'd look for a job. So Laurinburg became the school where the kids from the north came back to grandma and would go there. I guess there wasn't a public school for blacks or it wasn't very good or something.
ANN MCCOLL:
What county is this?
DANIEL POLLITT:
This is in Scotland County. If you just go down on 15-501 you'll run into it just before the South Carolina line. So then that same thing happened in World War II where the blacks went north. The husband would get the job, send for the wife, send for the kids and then if he was laid off, he would send them back. So Laurinburg Academy became the school for a lot of northern kids who would go home during bad times, but it also became in the process, sort of a prestigious prep school for northern kids who would go south to this prestigious prep school. To make it prestigious they would give scholarships to promising athletes in basketball and baseball. A lot of the famous black baseball players went to Laurinburg Academy, and also the basketball players. So Laurinburg Academy had a great basketball team. The year Charlie Scott played for them, and he came down from New York City, they had five of them and every one of them was a scholarship at a top ten basketball school. In any event, Charlie Scott was the best and he was at Laurinburg Academy. They all wore blue blazers and the men wore gray flannel trousers and the women wore gray flannel skirts and a white shirt every day. In the dining room they all stood up and the headmaster would give the prayer and then they would sit down, so it was very proper and had high standards. It was a very attractive campus. So Mr. McDuffy, if that's his name, because they kept on, the son took over from the father, was the headmaster and the coach of the basketball team. And unbeknownst to me, he was in the audience when I spoke to the state convention of the NAACP on Brown against the School Board and what has happened since, or what has not happened since. So he apparently liked my speech. So that's the background. Lefty Drizell was the coach at Davidson at the time and Short Border had built Davidson up into a powerhouse basketball team. He was great at recruiting and they were up there. They were invited to the NCAA annual tournament when they only invited thirty or whatever. So it was announced that Charlie Scott had signed to go to Davidson. So he's gone to Davidson. A few weeks later, or some period thereafter, he had not seen Davidson, so he called the coach or the coach called him and said, "How would you like to come see the campus and look it over. It's an attractive campus." So Lefty, the coach, went down to Laurinburg which is a four or five hour drive and picked Charlie up on a Sunday and drove back to Davidson to show him the campus. Well, at that time at Davidson, and the same thing was true here, they did not have Sunday evening meals on the campus, but they did have them at the churches. Every church had a Sunday dinner, and so the universities cooperated by not serving food so they'd have to go to the church to get a dinner. So the dormitories which were the dining facilities at the University at Davidson were closed when Charlie got there. The coach didn't want to take him to a church. So they went to one of the two or the three restaurants in town and they all told the coach in Charlie's presence, "We don't serve blacks. He can't eat here." So Charlie decided he didn't want to go to a town where he couldn't eat in the restaurants. So he cancelled. He cancelled his letter of intent and no protests were made because how could you defend it, you know? So then McDuffy, the headmaster at Laurinburg, called Dean Smith and said that nobody from Laurinburg had ever been admitted at the University of North Carolina and maybe you would like to start the thing off with Charlie Scott.
ANN MCCOLL:
Dean Smith is now the basketball coach?
DANIEL POLLITT:
Dean Smith is now the basketball coach and he suggested that maybe Dean Smith would like to bring me down to interview Charlie Scott. So Dean Smith called me and asked me if I'd like to go down and see Charlie Scott and I didn't know who Charlie Scott was, but I said, "Sure". That's what we'd been trying to do was to recruit a role model. So we drove down to Laurinburg and we took with us…. What the headmaster had told Dean Smith was that Charlie Scott was interested in being a doctor. He wanted to be pre-med. So there was one black medical student at that time, so he went down. So the three of us drove down to Laurinburg, Coach Dean Smith and me from the NAACP, and…. The name will come to me. His wife later became the head of the YMCA here.
ANN MCCOLL:
The pre-med student's wife?
DANIEL POLLITT:
Yes. He was a med student. So in any event, we went down and we saw a basketball game and I didn't know which one was Charlie Scott. They all looked so great to me. But then after the basketball game we had steak dinner at the headmaster's house and it was about 8:00. There was the headmaster and his wife and his brother-in-law and the coach and me and the black medical student and Charlie Scott. And Charlie Scott was very deferential and "Yes, sir". All the students are, "Yes, sir," and "Yes, ma'am". So then they invited him to come up to look at this campus. No pains were left undone.