Black History at UNC: Charles Scott

Charles Scott, Los Angeles, 2/14/1986

In honor of Black History Month, I’m highlighting an important figure in ACC athletics history: Charles Scott, who in 1966 became the first black scholarship athlete at UNC-Chapel Hill. While he was NOT the first black player in the ACC, as is sometimes reported (including in Hugh Morton’s North Carolina on page 172),  Scott had a huge impact as the Conference’s first well-known, charismatic, and all-around great African-American player.
Scott had an exceptional career at UNC, leading his team to ACC Championships and two consecutive final four appearances. He played on the 1968 Olympic Team, and after graduation had a decade-long professional run — first with the now-defunct ABA, then with several NBA teams including the Celtics and the Lakers.

UNC's Charles Scott (33) puts up a shot against Wake Forest, late 1960s

But as a 2001 interview in the Chapel Hill News reveals, it was not all triumph and accolades for Scott, especially during his UNC years. The late 1960s were highly tumultuous times, and breaking the color barrier proved to be solitary work. Scott says:

At that time, no matter how comfortable I felt with my teammates, they still had to deal with the fact that they never had been around black people, either. I still couldn’t go anywhere with their friends because their friends were still brought up in a South that was very separate…There was a lot of loneliness on my part and a lot of times I questioned myself why I was here.

When the highly deserving Scott was passed over in his junior AND senior years for ACC Player of the Year in favor of a white player, many blamed persistent racism.

Legendary coach Dean Smith played a big part in easing Scott’s UNC experience, as described in detail in an ESPN column by Richard Lapchick and in Barry Jacobs’ 2008 book Across the Line. Hugh Morton reports (on page 193 of HM’s NC) that when Scott spoke at the ceremony honoring Smith with the UNC System’s University Award, he said, “When they introduce Coach Smith’s family, why don’t they mention my name? My father died when I was twelve years old, and Dean Smith is the only father I ever had.”

UNC's Charles Scott (33) on a fast break against Wake Forest, late 1960s

Morton shot Charlie Scott both on and off the court, such as when he paid Scott a visit in Los Angeles in 1986 (when the portrait at the beginning of this post was taken). These photos are powerful and lasting documents of one of the great pioneers in sports history.

23 thoughts on “Black History at UNC: Charles Scott”

  1. In the “Tar Heels 70-71 Basketball Bluebook,” (Media Guide), there is a beautiful tribute to Charlie Scott. It’s written by UNC Sports Information Director Jack Williams and in it Williams says: “Scott’s career at Carolina was fabulous. He won the admiration and respect of sports fans everywhere.” Williams goes on to quote Coach Smith: “When the game is close near the end, Charles is like Arnold Palmer birdying Nos.17 and 18.”
    Here’s just a bit more identification for the two Morton action shots:
    (1) Both pictures appear to have been taken in Carmichael Auditorium. (Compare to the beautiful cover shot of Carmichael that Hugh took for the back cover of the 70-71 Media Guide. Note the lights, scoreboard, and windows).
    (2) Charlie Scott played against Wake Forest three times in Carmichael during his career at UNC…on 1/3/68, 2/6/69, and 1/17/70. During the ’69 season Carolina didn’t have a player wearing jersey #44, and Wake Forest didn’t have a player wearing jersey #14. During the ’70 season Wake Forest still didn’t have a player wearing jersey #14.
    The overhead scoreboard in the picture reads 53 to 43 at the 8:44 mark in the second half…The halftime score was 35-30… so at 11:16 into the second half a 53-43 score would be logical.
    Therefore, the game pictured must have been played in Carmichael Auditorium on January 3, 1968. (UNC won the game 74-62)
    (3) In image #2: Charlie Scott is #33 of course, UNC’s #44 is Larry Miller and #13 is Dick Grubar. Wake’s #23 is Newton Scott, #14 is Tommy Lynch, and #33 is Dickie Walker.
    (4) In image #3: again Charlie Scott is #33, Wake’s #14 is Tommy Lynch, and #11 is Jerry Montgomery. In the distance for Carolina are Bill Bunting #31, Rusty Clark #43 and Eddie Fogler #20.
    Sportswriter Gene Warren’s account of the game in the January 4th, 1968 issue of the “Greensboro Daily News,” began with this lead paragraph:
    “Charlie Scott, hailed as one of the nation’s top sophomores before the basketball season ever started, looked every inch an All-American here Wednesday night in supplying the fire power which carried nationally third-ranked Carolina to a 74-62 victory over Wake Forest.”
    And one final note: this victory was Dean Smith’s 100th as Tar Heel head coach.

  2. You should give some credit to Willie Cooper, the first Black UNC player. I didn’t see his name mentioned anywhere in this article.

    1. Trying to find Willie Cooper’s name was a challenge, as he was my classmate in Chapel Hill and a really nice fellow.
      Carmichael Auditorium was under construction in the mid-60’s, to replace Woolen Gymn(Tin Can). Both floors saw Willie as well as the Campus saw Dean Smith’s scarecrow stuffed lookalike hanging in effigy outside Bingham Hall.

      My, my; how “The Great Scott” turned many things in Carolina Basketball history; and perhaps securing/saving Dean Smith’s job???

  3. On page 193 of Hugh’s 2003 book, “Hugh Morton’s North Carolina,” there is a great color photograph of Charlie Scott with Coach Dean Smith and Michael Jordan.

  4. I am the daughter of Willie Cooper, the first black player at UNC and I have plenty of pictures. My dad dealt with a alot during that time and it would be nice for him to receive some recognition. I have pictures, articles, etc. Just a little recognition for my father would be nice.

  5. Tonya, thanks for your comment. This blog is about the Hugh Morton collection and the photos found therein; if Morton took pictures of Willie Cooper, I haven’t yet found them, but I will be on the lookout. We’re certainly not taking anything away from your dad’s accomplishments by highlighting Charles Scott, another important figure whom Hugh Morton knew well.

  6. Thank you for the response Elizabeth. If you provide me with an address, I can provide pictures and newspaper articles that were taken and written during the time that my father actually played. An article was written in the Charlotte Observer last March telling my father’s story. Here is a link to the modified story printed in the news and observer.
    Again thank you for acknowledging my comment.

  7. Charlie Scott was one of the greatest guys to ever oplay basketball at Chapel Hill, but I was in St. Anthony Hall (Delta Psi) Jan-September 1967 as transient grad member and I never saw Charlie Scott in a meeting and he’s not in our list of initiates or in the geogfraphical directory. Will another Saint A of our time there clear this up? John Carr

  8. Thanks to UNC basketball author and researcher Ron Smith, there is an update for image #2 and image #3.
    Image #2: UNC vs. Wake Forest in Carmichael Auditorium on January 17, 1970. UNC players are #33 Charlie Scott, #44 Dennis Wuycik, #13 Steve Previs. Wake’s #23 Dan Ackley, #14 John Lewkowicz,, #33 Dickie Walker.
    Image #3…same game. UNC #33 Charlie Scott. Wake #14 John Lewkowicz, #12 Charlie Davis. In the distance are Carolina players, #31 Bill Chamberlain, #43 Craig Corson, #20 Eddie Fogler.

  9. Researching John Henry Klugh, attended this school and was in WWII,then a Pullman Porter, with his own business in Jamaica NY. Married Leathia Cooper. Searching for relatives!!!

  10. I know that Charlie Scott was the first African American scholarship player at UNC but who was the first female scholarship plyayers…were they the baskeball players Kathy Crawford and Henrietta Walls?

  11. I lived and hung out in the same block with Charlie Scott as a kid in Harlem. We also played on the same little league baseball team. I also remember when Charles left Lauinberg and went to North Carolina. One thing i can say I was real proud when he became a star at North Carolina and The NBA being one his close childhood friends made it feel very special.

  12. On the womens side of basketball at UNC, Kathy Crawford ,Henrietta Walls and Deanna Thomas were the first African American female scholarship athletes to play at the University and Kathy Crawford was the first female player at the University to be recognized by Kodak by being named to the honorable mention all-american team in 1983

  13. I’m an OSU Buckeye and we are thrilled to have Charles Scott’s son, Shannon, playing at Ohio State. We are hopeful they will make a run during the tournament for this, his sophomore year. The tradition continues.

  14. me and charlie scott played basketball together while growing up in harlem on 131street the play ground was right across the street from our building….we play in the snow….at that time we was both the same height and he was a year or two older than me…i was around 13 or 14…..then he went to lauringberg in norht carolina and grew to 6’4 or so…he took the right road and i took the wrong road in life……but he is still my man

  15. I first met Charles when I was asked to help Billy Cunningham show Charles around UNC. He was a very impressive young man. He visited my fraternity, St Anthony Hall, before attending Laurinburg Institute. While at the Hall, a member of our sister fraternity at UVa made some racist comments which got the Upsilon Chapter members banned for our Hall for several years. When Charles finally entered UNC as the first Black scholarship athlete he also became my little brother at St. A. To say that there was no tension in Chapel Hill those days would be an understatement. We were still attending sit-ins. In any case, over several months it became clear that the first two and most important things on Charles’ agenda would be school and basketball. He excelled at both. We eventually agreed that actively participating in our social and literary activities at the Hall would require too much effort from him, so we reluctantly parted company. It was a good decision. It is my understanding that Charles eventually returned to UNC in the off season with the Va. Squires and earned an MBa.

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