by Sarah Guy, Research Assistant
The Sonja Haynes Stone Center Library for Black Culture and History first opened its doors on September 7, 2004, but its history can be traced back many years prior. The library’s namesake, Sonja Haynes Stone, served as the director of UNC’s Curriculum for Afro-American Studies from 1974 until 1979; she then continued as a professor until her unexpected passing on August 10, 1991. Stone won multiple awards during her time as a professor, including the Black Student Movement Faculty Award from one of the organizations that she advised, and she also served on numerous committees as a faculty member.
One committee that Stone served on was the Black Cultural Center planning committee, which advocated for a center for black culture on campus. In 1988, the committee’s planning came to fruition when the Black Cultural Center was established at UNC, housed in the Franklin Porter Graham Student Union. After Stone’s death in 1991, the BCC was renamed the Sonja Haynes Stone Black Cultural Center. Soon after, students began a campaign to provide the growing center with a stand-alone building to accommodate its work and programming.
In the summer of 1992, four African American football players founded the Black Awareness Council (BAC), aimed at improving the treatment of African Americans on campus by several means, including the construction of a free-standing Black Cultural Center. The creation of the BAC helped spark one of the largest student movements in the university’s history, which was chronicled by many newspapers, including the student-run Daily Tar Heel and Black Ink. Student organizations were actively protesting Chancellor Paul Hardin’s lack of support for the Black Cultural Center outside of South Building as early as March 1992.
The protests and rallies became more frequent, however, during the 1992-1993 school year, particularly with the activity of the BAC. On the night of September 3, 1992, 300 students marched from campus to the residence of Chancellor Paul Hardin to give him a list of demands, but he wasn’t at home. A week later, students marched from the Student Stores to the chancellor’s on-campus office and delivered their letter with their demands, which included an ultimatum demanding that he take action by November 13.
On September 17, 1992, filmmaker and activist Spike Lee visited the Dean Smith Center and spoke at a rally of 5,000 people. In response to these events and the students’ ultimatum, Chancellor Hardin endorsed a free-standing center in a press conference on October 15, 1992.
The UNC Board of Trustees approved the building of a free-standing center almost eight months after the Chancellor’s endorsement on July 23, 1993. Although the proposal for the center listed an open tract of land near Wilson Library and Dey Hall as their preferred location, the Board of Trustees said that it would be better placed at one of the alternate locations across from Coker Hall.
Among the original plans for facilities to be housed in the Stone Center were a dance studio, an auditorium, and a library. The library was originally conceived as a non-circulating, browsing collection, which would be open for anyone to read its materials but not to check them out. However, by the time the building opened its doors in 2004, librarians in Davis had been developing the Stone Center Library’s collections for months, and it opened as the newest branch of UNC Libraries. The collection has grown from around 6,000 books to nearly 12,000 volumes over the course of almost 15 years.
Currently, the Stone Center Library’s shelves are near capacity, filled with books covering a wide range of topics, from encyclopedias of black culture to the works of African American historians and great works of African American literature. As part of the Stone Center, the library seeks to further its mission to serve the population of UNC-Chapel Hill with information about African, African American, and African Diaspora Studies. The Stone Center Library would be unable to accomplish that goal without the untiring efforts of people like Sonja Haynes Stone and the students who many years ago fought for the existence of a center for black culture.