Edwina Thomas Applies to Graduate School at UNC in 1938

After working its way through the Missouri state and federal courts, the landmark case Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada challenging segregation in higher education came to a close in 1938. In December of that year, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Lloyd Gaines had been unfairly denied admission to the University of Missouri Law School because he was Black. When Gaines first challenged his rejection, the University offered to pay for him to attend law school outside the state. Gaines’ lawyer, Charles Hamilton Houston, masterfully convinced the courts that if Gaines could not attend the University of Missouri, the state would have to build a law school for Blacks equal to that of whites, recalling the “separate but equal” doctrine laid down in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. The decision was to enroll Gaines at the University of Missouri.

That year, in 1938, with the Gaines decision clearly having created fissures in the walls of Jim Crow, Black students continued pushing on the walls surrounding UNC. In late 1938, Pauli Murray applied to UNC’s graduate school and was denied. Her subsequent exchange with President Frank Porter Graham reveals both her genius and the tenuousness of Graham’s liberal position on race and integration.

Another Black woman applied earlier that year in 1938. Her name was Edwina Thomas. Her exchanges with Frank Porter Graham and Dean W.W. Pierson can also be found with Pauli Murray’s via the Records of the Office of the President of the UNC System Frank Porter Graham (1932-1949). When Thomas wrote to UNC asking the Dean for an application, the Gaines case had not yet been decided, but she was certainly very well aware of the details of the case and its chances for success.

Scan of letter April 1938 Dean Pearson to Edwina Thomas
In April 1938, Dean W.W. Pierson wrote to Edwina Thomas explaining why she would not be admitted to graduate school at UNC.

In January of 1938, Edwina Thomas, student at Talladega College in Alabama and of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, applied to graduate school at UNC. She requested an application by mail, which she filled out and returned. It is very unlikely that applications to the University asked for race – surely it was just assumed all applicants would be white. It appears to have taken some time for the Dean to realize that Thomas was Black. Pierson responds to Thomas at Talladega, dated April 27, 1938: “It is my understanding that it is the public policy of the State of North Carolina and the University of North Carolina not to admit members of the colored race to the University. Such admission would entail a reversal of a social policy of long standing and would require action to that effect by the trustees of the institution. I withhold therefore a ruling as to your academic eligibility for admission.”

In May, Thomas writes directly to President Frank Porter Graham, with echoes of the Gaines case in her response: “As I am unable financially to cope with the expenses of graduate schools outside my own state, I should like very much for you to advise me as to just what I can expect from the State of North Carolina in the way of help financially if I am to be denied admission to the State University because of my race.” Graham does respond to Thomas, assuring that despite the “laws of North Carolina with regard to providing separate schools for the two races, and the long established public policy of the state, I took the matter of your letter up with the Governor of our state,” and that the General Assembly should discuss the issue at some point the next year.

Scan of letter June 1938 Edwina Thomas to Frank Graham
In June 1938, Edwina Thomas writes from Winston-Salem stating that she is anxious to hear new of decisions regarding higher education and race.

In June 1938, Thomas writes Graham again, and on the letterhead of Wentz Memorial Congregational Church, where her father was Reverend. Referring to any possible decisions made at the state level regarding admission or funding of Black education, she says, “I look forward with great anticipation to any new developments along this line.”

Undeterred, Edwina Thomas still presses President Graham, writing from her home in Winston-Salem in August 1938, indicating that she is very much aware of legal and political tides within North Carolina: “Since a special session of the state legislature has been called, I was wondering the problem of facilities for negro graduate students could not be presented at this time. If this matter could be disposed of during this special session it would be considerably helpful for students, like myself, who wish to attend graduate school next year (next school year).” She closes, “I do hope that this very pressing problem can be mitigated soon.” Graham responds with news that neither education funding nor admission of Black students were discussed at the special session and would not be revisited until January 1939.

This is the extent of correspondence between Edwina Thomas and UNC administrators. She would not waste time waiting and went on to graduate school at Ohio State. Engaged as a scholar and leader, she became a lifelong member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. It is not clear if Graham took Thomas’ case specifically to the Governor at the time, as he claimed. The result would have been predictable, as Governor Clyde Hoey was a virulent segregationist and white supremacist.

Photograph of Edwina Thomas from 1963
Photograph of Edwina Thomas, The Ivy Leaf, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, June 1963

Edwina Theolyne Thomas was born in 1918 in Alabama to parents the Reverend George Jefferson Thomas and Winnie Cornelia Whitaker. Edwina’s father, originally from Georgia, was the leader of Winston-Salem’s Wentz Memorial Church, a Congregational Church. Before taking over at Wentz in 1924, George Thomas had been the field superintendent for Congregational Churches in Georgia and the Carolinas. When Thomas applied to UNC, she was 20 years old. A few years later when Thomas was 22, she married attorney H. Alfred Glascor, of Columbus, Ohio, and they lived some time in his hometown. Her marriage ended and she moved to Wisconsin, where Thomas became a renowned clinical psychologist at the Milwaukee County Memorial Hospital, a position she held for more than twenty years. There, she formed its first hospital outpatient unit in 1949. Tragically, Thomas died in a car accident in 1968 at age 50, and was mourned by the Milwaukee Star newspaper with a poem, “The Milwaukee Star mourns the loss/Of such an asset to our community;/But realize that one who lived so well/Will continue in the hereafter with impunity.”

Archival Photo Mystery: Buncombe County Military Recruits, 1916-1917

During a recent renovation project at Wilson Library, we came across a couple of photographic postcards that had been set aside.  Based on a note left with the photographs, it appeared that the items had probably been separated from the University Papers; however, when we tried to find corresponding folders or items in the collection, we were unsuccessful.  Thus began our most recent processing mystery.

The backs of the postcards are blank, which leads us to believe that they were enclosed with a letter, likely sent to President Edward Kidder Graham in 1917.  The photos are dated in 1916 and 1917 and show how two men have gained weight over the course of several months, before-and-after style.

We were of course curious about who these two men were and why their photos were sent to President Graham.  Based on UNC records, it doesn’t look like either White or Bryson were ever students here, but after some searching, we did learn a few things.

After looking through census and military records, we found a little information about the first man — Jobe White. He was from Weaverville, N.C., born in February 1897 to Malissa White, and he had two brothers — Bradshaw and Hardy.  We were less successful in discovering the identity of the second man.  The writing on the postcard appears to show just initials and surname — W.C. Bryson  — and we can guess that he was also from Buncombe County.  While we did find records that gave us pause and made us wonder whether this was the same man, none contained enough information for us to make a confident match.

What we can say is this: both men were part of the First North Carolina Infantry in 1916 and 1917. They were both from Buncombe County.  And they both gained a significant amount of weight over the course of five months of military training. (White gained 30 lbs. and Bryson gained 50.)

Based on the years and regiment, they were probably sent to Texas as part of the Mexican Border Campaign, also known as Pershing’s Punitive Expedition or the Pancho Villa Expedition. The First Regiment mustered at Camp Glenn, in Morehead City, during the first week of August 1916, arrived in El Paso in September 1916, and returned to North Carolina in early February 1917.

While we were able to find out all this just using the captions on both photographs, where they came from is still a mystery.  Were they sent to President Graham enclosed with a letter? Why were they sent to him? Who sent them?  If these men were never UNC students, how were they connected to the University? If you have any ideas, please let us know in the comments on this post or get in touch at archives@unc.edu.

 

For further reading:

State Archives of North Carolina, First North Carolina Infantry Regiment Panoramic Photograph. http://ead.archives.ncdcr.gov/AV_7005_First_North_Carolina_In_.html

National Archives, The United States Armed Forces and the Mexican Punitive Expedition: Part 1. https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1997/fall/mexican-punitive-expedition-1.html

A New Addition of Athletics Photographs from the 1960s and 1970s

We are excited to announce that a new accession of photographs to the Department of Athletics Collection is available for research. This accession is particularly special since it contains images of less-documented sports — including women’s sports and intramural sports — from the 1960s and 1970s.

Included in this addition are images of the Titleholder’s Championship (also called the Women’s Pro Tournament), held at Southern Pines and sponsored by UNC in 1972.  The Titleholder’s Championship was only a handful of championship-level events for professional women’s golf in the 1970s, and the winner of the event — Sandra Palmer — was one of the most accomplished female golfers of the time. The addition also includes photographs of the 1963 renovations to Kenan Stadium.

The selection of photos below include images of men’s intramural handball; women’s intramural basketball, volleyball, tennis, and bowling.

 

An evening with William Shatner at Memorial Hall, 1976

 

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Shatner speaking with “pomp, bombast, humor, and terror.”  The Daily Tar Heel,  November 8, 1976

Trekkies unite! 41 years ago today, William Shatner, a.k.a. Captain Kirk, spoke at Memorial Hall, where he gave a performance about the history of science-fiction.

However, the Enterprise captain experienced less-than-smooth sailing in Memorial Hall on November 4, 1976.  The Daily Tar Heel reported on November 8, 1976, that Shatner “couldn’t command the film projector of the PA system to work” and was therefore unable to show planned video footage.

Despite the lost battle against machines, Shatner continued his performance with gusto. Although many guests left because of the technology problems, those who stayed enjoyed a passionate performance.

His appearance at UNC was part of a 40-day tour of 40 colleges and universities, and his performance at Hofstra University was recorded for distribution.

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Advertisement in The Daily Tar Heel, November 1, 1976

Now Available: Edie Parker Papers

We are pleased to announce a new addition to University Archives, the Edie Parker Papers.

Edie Parker (then Edie Knight) attended UNC from 1947 to 1949. As a student, she was active in student government, Greek life, and the Model United Nations. The collection — mostly in the form of a scrapbook — includes materials from the Women’s Intercollegiate Government Forum that Parker planned, orientation booklets, rush invitations, clippings about the Model UN from the Daily Tar Heel, and letters from male suitors. While at UNC, Parker also participated in a conference about the U.S. role in European recovery from World War II that Mademoiselle magazine hosted in 1948. Her notes from the conference are included in the collection. Parker’s scrapbook and accompanying papers provide insight into the life of a woman student at UNC during the late 1940s.

Below, we’ve highlighted just a few items from the Edie Parker scrapbook, including photographs of UNC students and the 1949 UNC Commencement program.

Guide to Good Times: Summer Fun in Chapel Hill in 1979

Chapel Hill has always slowed down in the summer. Even with a growing population of summer school students and programs, the campus and town remain comparatively quiet in the months between commencement and the start of fall classes.

The summer staff of the Daily Tar Heel in 1979 took on the challenge of finding a summer activity for every letter of the alphabet. Presented below, from the issue published on May 31, 1979, is the “Guide to Good Times,” the ABCs of summer entertainment in Chapel Hill.

Martin Delany, George Moses Horton, and the Curious Path of Historic Photos Online

Martin R. Delany, ca. 1861-1865.

Last week, we spotted an interesting photo on a flier advertising an event at the Chapel Hill Historical Society. The flier included what is apparently a photo of the enslaved poet George Moses Horton. This is a pretty big deal: very little is known about Horton’s life and we were not aware of any images of Horton (other than imagined drawings, such as in this excellent recent children’s book).

Where, then, did the image come from? And was it really Horton? A quick online search for Horton revealed the photo used in several different places: on a poetry website, advertising a lecture, and on a “free social encyclopedia.” However, none of these sites listed a source or any information about how the image was identified as Horton.

The man in the photo appears to be wearing a Union army uniform. Horton was known to have been in North Carolina until the end of the Civil War, when he was reported to have left the state with a Union regiment to find a new home in the north. Could he have been photographed along the way wearing a uniform? It’s certainly possible.

We shared the photo and the story among Wilson Library staff. One archivist thought the photo looked familiar — possibly from the Ken Burns Civil War documentary — but that it had been identified as somebody else, not George Moses Horton. Another archivist did a reverse image search on Google and found that the photo, while most often described as being Horton, is also identified as being another man: Martin Robinson Delany.

Delany was a prominent African American newspaper editor and, during the Civil War, became the first African American major in the U.S. Army. He seemed like somebody who was much more likely to have had their photograph taken at the time. But we still wanted to verify the information: how could we be sure that the photo wasn’t also being misidentified as Delany?

The Wikipedia page for Delany includes a version of the now familiar photo, with a citation to West Virginia University. We got in touch with the special collections library at WVU and quickly heard back from a photo archivist there. The Wikipedia citation pointed to a now-removed web page (sadly a common fate for many Wikipedia citations), but the West Virginia archivist was able to track down an earlier version of the page using the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.

That web page listed the photo as coming from the U.S. Military History Institute in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. That organization has changed its name to the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, but the collections are still there. The West Virginia archivist pointed to a digitized scrapbook that included the photo we were after.

Martin R. Delany. From the MOLLUS – Mass Civil War Photo Collection, vol. 74. U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center.

The photo is included in a scrapbook compiled by the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. It’s definitely the photo we were looking for and the caption was clear: “Martin R. Delany.”

We can now say, with certainty, that the photo that is widely identified as George Moses Horton is not Horton: it’s Martin Delany. While Delany was a contemporary of Horton’s, there’s no evidence that they ever met or had any connection. The only mystery that remains is, how did this photo ever start to be used to represent Horton in the first place? It’s not as if it was a mystery photo of an unidentified person — it was clearly identified as Delany, who was himself a prominent figure.

Tracking down the source of the original photo was an interesting project, and we want to thank the awesome librarians and archivists who helped us get to the bottom of it. There are two big lessons we’re taking away from this: first, it’s always amazing how quickly misinformation can spread online, even by well-meaning people. And second, whenever there’s the slightest doubt about historical information, not just online but in print, it is always a good idea to go back to the original sources. If the answers are going to be found anywhere, they’ll be in the archives.

A Cartoon Mystery Solved

An ink drawing of two trains about to collide on the same track, one labelled "Chemistry" and one labelled "Physics"above a drawing of two roosters about to fight.
A late 1870s conflict between the Chemistry and Physics departments depicted as a train wreck and a cock fight. From the University of North Carolina Papers (#40005), University Archives.

A few years ago, we posted about a series of cartoons found in the University of North Carolina Papers (#40005). The large, undated drawings showed Chemistry and Physics as colliding trains, fighting roosters, and scuffling men. We weren’t sure when the cartoons were made, or what exactly they meant. But while searching the Daily Tar Heel on Newspapers.com today, I stumbled across a story that offers an explanation – a story of inter-departmental conflict and a creative student prank.

The June 6, 1904 issue of the Daily Tar Heel reports that the Alumni Association invited Judge Francis D. Winston, class of 1879, to speak and share his memories of his time at UNC. In his speech, he recalled:

The reopened University* found itself practically without scientific apparatus. Its scarcity caused a conflict between two members of the faculty. The institution owned a dilapidated air pump, which was claimed by two departments – Chemistry and Physics. The professor of Physics, a man of few words and quick to act, took it to his room in the end of the Old West. In his absence the professor of chemistry had it taken to Person Hall by the college servant. Professor [Ralph Henry] Graves arrived on the scene just as it reached the door. He seized it and had it returned. Professor [Alexander Fletcher Redd] Reed [sic] interfered and they came ‘mighty nigh fighting’with chemistry worsted. And this was in the days of a struggling college, over an instrument which Dr. Elisha Mitchell had condemned as useless in 1856 and which had not exhausted air in a quarter of a century.

An ink drawing showing two men in suits fighting over an air pump, which is on the ground between them. One man is labelled "Chemistry" and the other "Physics." The man labelled "Chemistry" has a speech bubble coming from his mouth that reads, "I'll be damned if you shall!" Above the men is the header "The Climax Reached."
Two men, presumably Professors Redd and Graves, shown in conflict over an air pump. The man labelled “Chemistry” has a speech bubble that reads, “I’ll be damned if you shall.” From the University of North Carolina Papers (#40005), University Archives.

The morning after this occurrence there was seen over the rostrum in the chapel, a large drawing in flaming colors, of two engines approaching each other on the same track. They were labeled Chemistry and Physics. Another scene told the story. Chemistry was derailed and demolished. Every student was at prayers that morning. The interest was manifest.

Dr. [Charles] Phillips was conducting chapel prayers that week. When he entered the door he took in the situation at a glance. When near the bull pen he broke into a quick run. He was applauded. He rushed up the steps to the hanging cartoons, but he failed to reach them, and he tried again and again. He was not without sympathy in the student body. How well do I recall their efforts of help and encouragement, when with his hand within an inch of the paper some one would cry: “Just a little more, oop-a-doop, a little higher.” But it was beyond his reach and he sat down. Wilson Caldwell, the college servant was sent for and the papers removed and prayers were said.

The next morning the artist put the incident into another form by having a game cock labeled Physics after a crestfallen, retreating rooster named Chemistry. The crowd was expectant. The good doctor saw the cartoons as he entered the door. He went to the desk with measured step. He appeared not to notice it. In the lesson that he read occurred this verse: ‘Watch ye therefore, for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even or at midnight,’ and here he paused, ‘or at the cock crowing in the morning, lest coming suddenly he might find you sleeping.’

Though Winston’s memories of the cartoons and the event they commemorated – shared thirty years after the fact – may not be entirely reliable, these cartoons now make a lot more sense. We now know that they were created between 1875 and 1879 and refer to a real conflict between two departments on campus. The drawing of the two men fighting over a piece of equipment labelled “air pump” can be taken much more literally than previously thought, as we now know it depicts an actual dispute over an air pump.

Although Winston remembered the train and rooster drawings appearing separately and they are here presented on one sheet of paper, the holes and tears at the corners of these cartoons suggest that these may some of the original drawings he remembered being hung in Gerrard Hall during chapel exercises.

 

*The University of North Carolina was closed from February 1871 to September 1875. Learn more about the University during the Civil War and Reconstruction. 

 

Michael Eric Dyson’s 1996 Commencement Speech

Twenty years ago this week, UNC professor Michael Eric Dyson delivered the commencement address at the winter graduation ceremony. The speech, “Is America Still a Dream?,” was immediately controversial.

Daily Tar Heel, 7 January 1997.
Daily Tar Heel, 7 January 1997.

Dyson, a faculty member in the department of communications, wrote about rap music and contemporary African American culture, topics he addressed in his commencement speech. Dyson spoke first about the idea of the American dream, saying, “The only hope for extending the American Dream is an acknowledgment that for many it has not been achieved.” He talked about the anger and frustration of many young people in the so-called “Generation X” and argued that youth culture in general, and rap music in particular, “sometimes conceals, at other times reveals, personal and social pain, the stark underside of the American Dream.”

Defending contemporary rap against its critics, Dyson said that in the work of many rappers “there is also a celebration of the freedom of lyrical creativity, rhetorical dexterity and racial signification.” He gave examples, quoting from the lyrics of Snoop Doggy Dogg and Notorious B.I.G., some of which included profanity.

Dyson encouraged the graduates to “get rid of the amnesia that clogs the arteries of American national memory” and to acknowledge that “the American Dream has been long in the making, and that your piece of it today as a college graduate, has come at great expense.” In his closing remarks, he commented on Michael Jordan’s recent gift to the UNC School of Social Work, and expressed disappointment that Jordan did not donate to support the new Black Cultural Center at Carolina.

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Daily Tar Heel, 8 January 1997.

The use of occasional profanity, the criticism of Jordan, and the overall challenging tone of the speech were controversial. Apparently some students and parents walked out during the speech, but the larger outcry came later in local media and in letters from alumni to UNC Chancellor Michael Hooker. Several parents who attended the ceremony wrote to Hooker with complaints, as did many more alumni who read about it in local papers.

In his responses, Hooker was often apologetic, writing to one parent, “In my judgment, our speaker could have advanced his thesis without using offensive language, especially at a family-oriented ceremony such as graduation. Commencement is an occasion that calls for challenging, but also inspiring and uplifting comments.” A Daily Tar Heel editorial criticized Hooker, writing, “More than anything, he should have stood up for the truth behind Dyson’s comments. In sparking such controversy, he dared to present a harsh truth in place of sugar-coated platitudes.

Ultimately, the focus on the rap lyrics and the comments about Jordan overshadowed the larger content and message of Dyson’s speech. A Charlotte Observer editorial a few days later noted that his message was “not so radical,” continuing: “He was challenging graduates to understand our American history, the good and the bad in all its complexity.” In the Daily Tar Heel coverage of the controversy, Jane Brown, who was Chair of the Faculty, said, “The focus on the language in the rap lyrics distracted from the main message. (Dyson) was speaking for people who are rarely spoken for. A lot of people appreciated that.” The DTH editorial was even more direct: “Dyson, instead of facing criticism, should have received a standing ovation.”

Dyson left UNC in 1997 for a faculty position at Columbia University. He is currently on the faculty at Georgetown University and continues to write and speak about African American history and culture.

Sources and Further Reading:

Michael Eric Dyson: http://www.michaelericdyson.com/.

Charlotte Observer, 22 December 1996.

Daily Tar Heel, 7 January 1997 and 8 January 1997.

Independent Weekly, August 20-26, 1997.

Office of Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Michael Hooker Records, 1995-1999. Series 1, folder 29 (Commencement: General, January – March 1997). University Archives.

Office of President of the University of North Carolina (System): C. D. Spangler, Jr., Records, 1986-1997. Series 2.1, folder 809 (Commencement, December 15, 1996 – Mike Dyson Controversy). University Archives.

Haunted House of Master Mangum

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From the Daily Tar Heel, 31 October 1985

 

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David Brown begging for sympathy from visitors in Mangum’s Haunted House Wednesday Night (From the Daily Tar Heel, 31 October 1985)

Halloween is fast approaching, and students across campus are deciding what costume to wear for a night out on Franklin Street. The tradition of roaming Franklin Street on Halloween began in the early 1980s and while the tradition is well known across the state, it’s not the only way students on campus have celebrated the holiday.  In the fall of 1981, residents of Mangum dormitory decided they wanted to buy an ice machine for the building. When they learned the University wouldn’t cover the costs under its enhancement policy, they took matters into their own hands and decided to raise the money themselves by staging a haunted house.

The first Mangum Haunted House opened at 7 p.m. on October 30, 1981 and visitors paid $1 for a guided tour through “madmen, a hell scene, a cemetery scene, and a lot of other scary scenes,” according to Mangum Resident Assistant Billy Leland (from the Daily Tar Heel, 30 October 1981). The 1st Annual Mangum Haunted House was open until midnight on the 30th and from 7 p.m. until 1 a.m. on the 31st.  The event was a success, and an ice machine was purchased.

The event continued until the mid-1990’s, with Mangum residents trying to create a new and scarier version of the haunted house each year, and beginning in 1982, proceeds from ticket and t-shirt sales were donated to the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center.

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“Slime, anyone?” From the Daily Tar Heel, 31 October 1985
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From the Daily Tar Heel, 31 October 1986