Black Freedom and the University of North Carolina, 1793-1960 Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Chapman, John Kenyon
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • Recent histories of the University of North Carolina trivialize the institution's support for white supremacy during slavery, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow, while denying that this unjust past affects the university today. The celebratory lens also filters out African American contributions to the university. In fact, most credit for UNC's increased diversity is due to the struggles of African Americans and other traditionally disenfranchised groups for equal rights. During both the 1860s and the1960s, black freedom movements promoted norms of democratic citizenship and institutional responsibility that challenged the university to become more honest, more inclusive, and more just. By censoring this historical viewpoint, previous scholarship has contributed to a culture of denial and racial historical amnesia that heralds UNC as the "University of the People," without seriously engaging questions of justice in the past or the present. This dissertation demonstrates that before 1865, the gentry used the university to promote the growth of slavery. Following Emancipation, university trustees led the white supremacy campaign to suppress black freedom and Radical Reconstruction. At the turn of the century, university leaders organized the movement for black disfranchisement and segregation that led to Jim Crow. Until the 1960s, the university enforced Jim Crow in its employment practices and its relations with the Town of Chapel Hill. Throughout its history, black workers were the main force challenging UNC's institutional racism on campus, in Chapel Hill, and throughout the state. An extended Epilogue examines how the university's institutional culture changed during the 1960s from an open defense of Jim Crow to acceptance of non-discrimination. Although the university accepted formal equality in admissions, employment, and its relations with the larger community, it did not acknowledge or attempt to dismantle the institutional structures of white supremacy that it had helped to create throughout its history. In this way, UNC established a paradigm of diversity without justice to replace Jim Crow, replacing the open celebration of white supremacy with new forms of subtle, "colorblind" institutional racism that persist today.
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  • Leloudis, James
  • Open access

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