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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 >>

Breaking the color line and community involvement with Dean Smith

Pollitt continues his description of the impact of Charlie Scott and the breaking of the color line in UNC athletics. In particular, Pollitt focuses on how despite new ground being broached in athletics, African American students still faced discrimination within the larger community. In addition, he describes how the tensions of racial politics played a role in the recruiting of African American basketball Bill Chamberlain shortly thereafter. The passage concludes with Pollitt's comments on how he and Dean Smith also worked for community betterment beyond the integration of university athletics, describing their work towards developing a school breakfast program. (Note: Pollitt argues here that Scott and Chamberlain came to UNC in the late 1950s, but it was actually in the mid- to late 1960s.)

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

So he left and signed with the pros. Do you remember anything about the impression of the students or the community when he came here?
Yes. He got married in maybe his junior year and Dean Smith called me because we had an apartment in the basement of our house which was sort of like an English apartment or whatever. It's ground level, but the ground slopes, so it's the basement but it's not underground. So Dean Smith called me and asked me if we could rent our apartment to Charlie Scott and I said, "There's nobody in it. We'd be happy to have Charlie Scott." And he said, "Well, you and Dr. Byne," who was the animal doctor…. That's not what he is. [laughter] But he was the only one in town and was very popular and he said he had an apartment and the two of you are the only people who are willing to take Charlie Scott, the great basketball player. So he came by and looked at our apartment. He went to Dr. Byne's and looked at his apartment and then he decided he would live in Durham where there was a more congenial neighborhood, so he moved to Durham. So that, I think, speaks against Chapel Hill. He couldn't get his hair cut downtown.
Would people cheer for him at the games?
Oh, yes.
So all the segregation policies were in effect then. This was the late fifties?
This was before the sit-ins, so this was the fifties, because we were segregated downtown. He couldn't go to the restaurants and the theater. We had two movie theaters and he couldn't go to either one. So that's why he moved to Durham. He could sit in the balcony. But the interesting thing is a second black might have been named Chamberlain. Bill Chamberlain, maybe. I'm sure a lot of people would know. He came down and he was from Long Island and he had gone to…. I forget the name of it, but it was something like Lutheran High. It was a church related school. And he was sought after everywhere. Princeton was after him and this was the days of Bill Bradley was at Princeton and Princeton was a great basketball school. And Dean Smith was after him. So he came down to visit and he brought his mother with him and his father. Dean Smith asked me to meet with the parents while they took Bill around. I don't know whatever you do when you recruit. So I was with the mother and father and I took them for lunch somewhere; probably the Carolina Inn or somewhere. And they were asking me how their son might get along. And I said, "Well, it's a segregated society down here and he can't get his hair cut downtown. But we've got a very active movement and this is a place where you can holler if you want to and make a difference and protest." And I told her, "Now if he goes to Princeton, he'll be able to get a haircut probably, but they're going to be racist same as we are here, but it will be subtle and here it's out in the open. It's easier to do something about the open stuff than the other." And I thought, "Well, maybe I shouldn't have said that. We'll see." But then Dean Smith called me a week later and told me Bill Chamberlain was going to come here and his mother urged him to come here because I was the only one who had told her the truth in all their goings around. Those were the first two black athletes to come to Carolina and I feel that is one of my major accomplishments at Chapel Hill. Dean Smith wanted the best basketball players he could get, but he also wanted to break the color bar and he's been very good in that. Somewhere in the early sixties, during the war on poverty days, Sarge Shriver was head of the OEO and we were trying to get a hot lunch program at the schools and also a breakfast, with Bob Seymour, the minister at the Baptist Church who was the head of the Interfaith Council. He had made a survey and found out that a large percentage of the minority kids came to school without having had breakfast and that they would get drowsy and they would yawn around 10:00. At 10:00 they would get their milk and cookies or crackers or something. But they would come here hungry and that had an adverse impact on their learning. So we thought, "Let's get some surplus food which was cheese and syrup and ham and have some breakfast and try to get OEO to finance it and everything." And we got a grant for that. Then the school ended and what we thought of was that it's important for these kids to have breakfast and a hot lunch, so why don't we have an expanded summer school? At that time, there was no summer school or no summer school of substance in the Chapel Hill school system. So the regular school year was over, so that was not to be funded and I remember talking to E.D. Smith who was the Vice Superintendent who had been the principal at the black high school and they'd made him the head of administrative problems such as school buses. So they had to make sure there would be a school bus or two to pick people up and he said he could make the school bus, but he couldn't pay for the insurance. We'd have to pay for the insurance. A little technical problem. So there was a committee appointed of which Dean Smith and I were the co-chairmen to raise funds to have the summer program where the kids could go to school, but basically where they could get some hot meals. I'm saying this because Dean Smith did it and there aren't very many basketball coaches who would get real involved in that sort of thing.