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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Julius L. Chambers, June 18, 1990. Interview L-0127. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

UNC's role in the desegregation of its programs

Chambers explains the origin of the Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) administration's case against the University of North Carolina. Federal pressures mounted but UNC officials felt they had eliminated the school's racially discriminatory practices. Chambers argues, however, that UNC had not done enough. Instead, he contends that UNC assumed a moderate position, which elevated integration as a goal; but in practice, Chambers asserts that impediments remained in place practically to maintain unequal resources and facilities between blacks and whites.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Julius L. Chambers, June 18, 1990. Interview L-0127. 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

WILLIAM LINK:
Tell me about the origins of the desegregation case against the University of North Carolina. There's a lot of history behind all of it, as there is any form of desegregation or segregation.
JULIUS L. CHAMBERS:
Well, I guess one has to think back to the 1950s, or even earlier, if you want to, when efforts were made by individual blacks to gain admission to the University. And they were initially rejected and later ordered to ߞthe University was later ordered to admit these candidates. And we had a few blacks admitted to Chapel Hill and all over the state, in Greensboro, but the numbers were extremely smaller. And we had six traditionally black institutions that were about 100 percent black. Maybe ninety-nine point nine percent. We had real problems in terms of the financial support from the state for these institutions. And we had really the clear remnants of the past segregation by the state and higher ed, despite the admission of a few blacks to Chapel Hill, or Greensboro, or Raleigh. And that was typical of what was happening in the other southern states that had traditional black institutions of higher ed. Virginia, for example, had its Virginia State, and Norfolk. South Carolina had its South Carolina State. And one could go down the list. In 1969, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed a proceeding in Washington challenging the continued funding by the federal government of segregated institutions, not only of higher education, but elementary, secondary schools as well. So that law suit, then called Adams versusߞI've forgotten who he wasߞFence, who was then Secretary. The Nixon administration had announced that it would not enforce Title VI, which prohibited funding of segregated programs. And based on that policy, and the programs of the Nixon administration, we filed a law suit asking the court to enjoin the Federal government to enforce Title VI. And that litigation grew and changed under each of the new secretaries. But it was designed to require the Federal government direct the states that were receiving Federal funds eliminate the vestiges of past discrimination in higher ed, among others. And growing out of that the court issued an order, and the then Department of Health and Education, directed each of these states, including North Carolina, to come in with a plan for the elimination of discrimination in higher ed. And North Carolina initially resisted, contending that the University was not discriminating. And the Board of Governors became very involved in the University's and the state's response to the Health and Education Department's directive that the state come in with a plan. Some members of the board felt that the University had done all that it needed to do to comply with the mandates of Brown or the constitution. Some others, including myself, felt that the state had woefully failed to do what was necessary to not only ensure equal opportunities in admission for minority students to these institutions, but also to enhance the traditionally black institutions, to make them competitive entities within the university setting. And that was sort of the stageߞwe got into an extended debates and arguments about what the roleߞwhat role the University should play in opening up opportunity. Friday, I think, maybe for political reasons or whatever, took a rather strong position that the University had done all that it needed to do. And you couldn't force minority students to go to Chapel Hill, or whatever other traditional white institution you were talking about. And that they had done as much as was necessary to enhance the traditionally black institution. On the other hand, a number of people argued that A&T, and North Carolina Central, and Elizabeth City, Fayetteville, any other traditionally black institutions, were just there, underfunded and not allowed to play an equal role in providing the educational programs. And that debate continued through the settlement that was finally reached, I guess, with the state and the federal government after Reagan took office. I guess that would have been in the 1980s. '81 And the debate is still going on.
WILLIAM LINK:
Was thereߞI gather there was a spectrum of opinion on the Board of Governors about this issue. Some people who wanted to do nothing. Some people who wanted to do a little. Some people who wanted to do more. Some people who wanted to do a lot. Is that a ߞ
JULIUS L. CHAMBERS:
Yeah.
WILLIAM LINK:
. . .and coalition building. And I guess then Friday had to build aߞor Friday did build a consensus which was somewhere along the middle, or somewhere right in the middle, perhaps?
JULIUS L. CHAMBERS:
Uh. Where would you put it? Maybe right in the middle. Or somewhere between the middle and right on the middle. It wasn't the extreme position that some people advocated, telling the government to go to hell. It was more, "Here, look, we are proposing to do A, B, C, or D." "We got like an open enrollment in the sense that people could apply to go wherever they wanted to go. We will provide some small funding support for promoting integration, not only in the traditionally white schools, but in the black schools. And we'll provide some funding to enable minority teachers, or teachers at the minority schools, to get the terminal degree." Or, "We will provide some funds to improve, somewhat, the library facilities or resources at the poor school. But we're not going any further than that. We're not going to adopt what they call 'unreasonable goals' for minority enrollment or the hiring of minority teachers. We're not going to make A&T competitive with North Carolina State. We're going to convert the system into research and doctoral institutions, and masters institutions, and baccalaureate institutions. And the schools will fall where they may in that." And the flagged institutions like Chapel Hill, and State, and Greensboro, will remain flagged institutions. Primarily research institutions of a higher salary base. Really a higher funding base for those institutions. The five-year institutions would include two, at least, of the traditionally black institutions, but the funding for those programs, although facially equal to the other five-year institutions, varied, because at East Carolina you ended up with the doctoral programs at the medical school. And there was, I think, a rather clear disparity in the funding for those institutions, as compared to theߞand even in the four-year institutions there were disparities between the black and the traditional white institution. Facially though, was the argument that we've gone A, B, C, or D, to bring in some blacks and to make sure that a few blacks got to the traditional white institutions, and that some whites got to the traditionally black institutions. But there wasn't a commitment to bring the black institutions up-to-par, even in the tiered structure that they came up with to compete with the white institutions.
WILLIAM LINK:
So that was built in the structure, in a sense, and went back, as you suggested earlier, to theߞdo you think there was a line of continuity between the rather open resistance to desegregation in the 1950s, even to token desegregation, from that point, to, among some people, continued resistance in the seventies?
JULIUS L. CHAMBERS:
Oh yeah, yeah. In fact I don't even think that North Carolina would have moved any further in terms of bringing more minorities into the university system but for the pressure, you see, from the Federal government. One sees that even now, in terms of what the University has done under this consent decree, which was finally reached. Very limited goals for minority enrollment in the institutions. Very limited goals for the employment of faculty members and administrators. And basically nothing in terms of the enhancement of the traditionally black institution. And very little was taking place. I was pleased to see, when I was in Chapel Hill, I guess it was in May, that the number of minority applicants has increased. But, I think the state is doing a dismal job with the employment of faculty members and administrators. And even with the enrollment of minority students.