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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 >>

Organizing students via the Campus Y

Pollitt describes his work with the student Y at UNC. Pollitt explains that the Y was the center of student activity during the late 1950s and into the 1960s. In particular, he describes how the Y helped to organize student protests of the Vietnam War by chartering buses to take groups of students to lobby legislators in Washington, D.C. His comments are indicative of the nature of student activism and faculty involvement in student movements during those years.

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

ANN MCCOLL:
You did some other things on campus with the Y. Can you tell me more about what kinds of things the Y did?
DANIEL POLLITT:
I was chairman of the board of the Y before Ann Queen.
ANN MCCOLL:
What year was that?
DANIEL POLLITT:
Well, when I came here. When I first came here the YMCA was not very Christian. It wasn't male. So it was really the Campus Y and it was the center for all social action. So if you wanted to do something socially, not a dance, but you know, socially beneficial, you did it through the Y. The Y was the campus organization that did things. And some of the religions, the Methodists and the Catholics and the Baptists, they all were the do-good organizations. The Y Court was the center of all activities at that building. They had such things as going out to Butner and spending an afternoon with the people in the mental institution or tutoring programs. Crop Walk for Hunger. The Y was the center for social activities, for do-good activities. They'd invite the speakers who would be controversial and have something significant to say and then they usually would have a reception for them which would be open to anybody. Then there would be a reception either before it or after at Ann Queen's house which would only be open to fifty to seventy-five people. As many as could crowd in.
ANN MCCOLL:
But did a lot of people attend the events?
DANIEL POLLITT:
Oh, yes. If you were going to have someone like Fred McKissick, or Sloane Coffin used to come down, so there would be controversial people. The Y had that series going. So I thought that was the thing to join in and I did. You know if you're a lawyer you have to draft the by-laws and then you have to interpret them and you're running the place. So it was fun. I was on for three or four years, on the board and the chair.
ANN MCCOLL:
Was this in the late fifties?
DANIEL POLLITT:
Yes. The late fifties and early sixties. Then later on during the Viet Nam War, the protest center was the Y. We organized "Washington Witness" where we would hire buses and go to Washington and lobby with the legislators.
ANN MCCOLL:
Was this faculty and students?
DANIEL POLLITT:
Yes. I was co-chair of Washington Witness with a guy at the YMCA and I wrote the check for the bus.
ANN MCCOLL:
A personal check?
DANIEL POLLITT:
Yes. Then we'd charge twenty-five dollars or up and down or whatever the appropriate amount was, so we always had fifty bucks left over or something. But they always wanted a check in advance before they would agree to have ten buses or something…
ANN MCCOLL:
So how many buses would you take?
DANIEL POLLITT:
Oh, three or four thousand people would go up.
ANN MCCOLL:
How many times did you go?
DANIEL POLLITT:
I have my files. We had Washington Witness One, Washington Witness Two and Washington Witness Three, so we went up three times. What we did was the first time we went, Nick Galifinikus was the Congressman and he lived in Durham and he was sort of anti-war and Bill Friday was the President of the University and he was helpful. And we met right out here in the law school lounge, a group of about twenty, to plan things the first time or the second time. My memory isn't that good. But we would go up and we met with the two senators and every congressman from North Carolina. Nick Galifinikus and Bill Friday arranged that. We met in a great big room in the Senate and we filled it; a big hearing room.
ANN MCCOLL:
So your whole three thousand people or whatever would come and you would have room for them?
DANIEL POLLITT:
Well, we'd meet in the biggest place they had and people would stand around and everything. The way it was was that we would present our position to them and then they would respond and so we would have three minute speeches by the editor of the Law Review, the President of the student body, the editor of the "Tarheel", the head of the Di Phi or whatever and that would take fifteen or twenty minutes. Then they could respond and then it would be thrown open for one minute rule, so you get on the mike and anybody who wanted to speak would line up at one of the many mikes around. Sam Ervin was then our Senator and the other Senator I forget his name. But he told us right then and there, he said, "Yesterday I voted to support the administration on something, but no more. You've convinced me."
ANN MCCOLL:
That's great.
DANIEL POLLITT:
Yes. So that was wonderful. On another time when we went up…. Then we'd break into the afternoon. You would sign up to meet a Congressman or a Senator from 2:00 to 2:30 or something and you'd go see him, say if you were from Wilmington, you'd see the Congressman from Wilmington. Then the buses still had to lay over eight hours before the driver could drive back, so there was time. And so on one of the occasions, we arranged to meet with the new Congresspeople.
ANN MCCOLL:
From North Carolina?
DANIEL POLLITT:
No. National. They included Father Dreinon from Massachusetts, Bob Dreinon, Bella Abzug from New York and Ron Dellams from California. It was a great class of entering freshmen and they all agreed to meet with the North Carolina students. I remember Father Dreinon was way, way up on the top floor in the Cannon House office building, on the top floor where they put new Congressmen next to where they store boards or something, and my daughter Suzie was with me and she was ten or something. So he put her in what he called the "Pope seat" which was his big chair and she never has forgotten seeing it. But that's what we did. You know at the time of Kent State we went up and we'd gone up earlier. We met there outside the Planetarium at 5:30 and then got on the bus and we'd stop at Petersburg for a half an hour breakfast or something and then up there. Then the Methodists here were very good. There is a Methodist building right across from the Capitol Building next to the Supreme Court and they arranged to have box lunches for us for a dollar and a quarter or something like that for three thousand people, so the logistics were…. There were a lot of logistics to take care of. This was all done through the Campus Y.