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Charles Scott and the Integration of Varsity Sports at Carolina

UPDATE May 2, 2017: Exhibit extended through May 30, 2017.

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When Charles Scott took the floor for the men’s basketball team on Dec. 2, 1967, he became the first African American to play on the varsity basketball team at Carolina.

It was the beginning of a legendary career for Scott and marked a turning point in University history. Not only did he help bring the Tar Heels back to national prominence – the team made it to two Final Fours during Scott’s years at Carolina – he helped to pave the way for the generations of African American athletes and students who would follow in his footsteps.

A new exhibit on the fourth floor of Wilson Library, which opens Jan. 30 and runs through April 30 May 30, will place Scott’s career in context by looking at the integration of the student body at Carolina and of Chapel Hill in the 1960s, said University archivist Nicholas Graham.

The exhibit will reveal how Carolina integrated peacefully, but reluctantly, Graham said.

Scott, center, celebrates a 1968 NCAA tournament win with his teammates and Coach Dean Smith. Photo by Jock Lauterer. From the Jock Lauterer Photos in the North Carolina Collection.

After decades of resisting efforts by African American students to attend Carolina, federal court orders forced the University to begin admitting African Americans to its graduate programs in 1951. The University administration continued to deny African American applicants to the undergraduate school until 1955, when another federal court ordered the university to admit qualified African American students.

As a result, the number of African American students at Carolina grew slowly. When Scott enrolled in 1966, he was one of only 22 African Americans in an entering class of more than 2,000.

When Dean Smith was hired as head basketball coach in 1961, one of his goals was to recruit African American players for Carolina.

“Smith was inspired by the example of his father, who had, years before, integrated a high school basketball team in Kansas despite strong opposition by many in the community,” Graham said. “Smith was further encouraged by Robert Seymour, the pastor at Binkley Baptist Church in Chapel Hill and a leader in the local Civil Rights movement.”

Scott grew up in New York City before going to Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina for high school, where he excelled as both a star player on the basketball team and an outstanding student in school. Many schools recruited Scott, and he initially committed to play at Davidson College, but Smith coaxed Scott to visit Chapel Hill and later convinced him to come to Carolina.

Scott excelled from the start, following a successful first year on the freshman team by three outstanding years on the varsity, Graham said. He and his teammates took the Tar Heels to two Final Fours and Scott played on the gold medal-winning 1968 Olympic basketball team.

But his years at Carolina were not without controversy, Graham added.

“Scott was often the subject of abusive comments from fans at away games,” Graham said. “And despite terrific seasons in 1968-69 and 1969-70, he finished second in ACC Player of the Year voting when several voters left him off of their ballots entirely, in what could only be explained as racially motivated votes.”

The small exhibit – which will include photos, newspaper articles, documents from the University Archives and old basketball programs – promises to appeal to sports fans and anyone interested in University history.

Story courtesy of the University Gazette

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