Noteworthy Firsts: W. Horace Carter

At the University Day celebration on October 11, 2016, Chancellor Carol Folt announced a new program to name scholarships after notable “firsts” in UNC history. In recognition of the individuals recognized as pioneers at UNC, the University Archives is publishing blog posts with more information about each of the twenty-one “firsts.” This post is part of that series.

carter_0404944_dthIn 1953, journalist W. Horace Carter was one of the first UNC alumni to win a Pulitzer Prize. Carter, the founder and editor of the Tabor City Tribune, was honored with a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for his brave reporting on the activities of the Ku Klux Klan in Tabor City – reporting that led to an FBI investigation and the convictions of almost one hundred KKK members.

When Carter entered UNC in 1939, he was not only the first in his family to attend college, but the first to graduate from high school. In an interview conducted by the Southern Oral History Program, Carter said that the summer before coming to Chapel Hill, he saved up $112 while working in a cotton mill. His first day on campus, he went to Director of Admissions Roy Armstrong’s office and asked whether he thought he could get through school with the money he’d saved. Armstrong encouraged him, saying “I know a lot of people who got through on less.”

Carter immediately got a job at the UNC News Bureau, working about eight hours a day, and also joined the freshmen baseball team. He soon became a sports editor for the Tar Heel (today the Daily Tar Heel).

In 1942, as the United States entered World War II, Carter left UNC to work in a shipyard. After several months, he joined the Navy and was assigned to a hospital in Charleston, South Carolina. After serving there for a year, he returned to UNC – this time as part of the V-12 Navy College Training program. He returned to work at the News Bureau and at the Tar Heel, where he served as sports editor, then as a co-managing editor, and, starting in May 1944, as editor. He was involved in a number of campus organizations and activities, and was tapped as a member of the Order of the Golden Fleece and the Order of the Grail.

“No Excuse for KKK,” Horace Carter, Tabor City Tribune, July 27, 1950.

After graduating from UNC, Carter moved to Tabor City, North Carolina, to start a newspaper, the Tabor City Tribune. Four years later, after the KKK paraded through the town, Carter wrote his first anti-Klan editorial, headlined “No Excuse for KKK.” Without the support of his community and at great risk to himself, he would go on to write more than 100 articles exposing and condemning Klan activities in the area. The articles drew the attention of the FBI, and nearly 100 members of the Klan were arrested and convicted as a result of the investigation.

In 1953, Carter and Willard Cole, the editor of the Whiteville News Reporter, were both honored with the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in recognition of their work. Carter continued at the Tribune for two decades before retiring to Florida, where he was a prolific writer on nature, fishing, and other topics. He returned to the Tribune in the 1990s, working there until shortly before his death in September 2009.

Sources and Further Reading:

The Editor and the Dragon: Horace Carter Fights the Klan, Center for the Study of the American South,

“Carter Ends Brilliant, Though Short, TH Career,” Muriel Richter, The Tar Heel, 24 June, 1944. (available via on campus or with a UNC ONYEN account)

“No Excuse for KKK,” Horace Carter, Tabor City Tribune, 27 July, 1950

Oral History with W. Horace Carter, January 17, 1976. Interview B-0035. Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“W. Horace Carter, 88, a Publisher Whose Paper Challenged the Klan, Dies,” Bruce Weber, the New York Times, 20 September, 2009,

Noteworthy Firsts: Henry Owl

At the University Day celebration on October 11, 2016, Chancellor Carol Folt announced a new program to name scholarships after notable “firsts” in UNC history. In recognition of the individuals recognized as pioneers at UNC, the University Archives is publishing blog posts with more information about each of the twenty-one “firsts.” This post is part of that series.

From the 1927 "Hacawa," student yearbook at Lenoir Rhyne College.
From the 1927 “Hacawa,” student yearbook at Lenoir Rhyne College.

Henry Owl, a member of the Eastern band of Cherokee Indians, was the first Native American student to attend UNC.  Owl came to Carolina in the fall of 1928 and graduated the following year with a Master of Arts in History.

Owl was born in 1896 near Rattlesnake Mountain in western North Carolina. He attended the school at the Cherokee reservation, which at the time went only through eighth grade. Owl began his college education at the Hampton Institute, a primarily African American school in Hampton, Virginia. After leaving Hampton, Owl joined the U.S. Army and then taught briefly in Oklahoma. He returned to North Carolina in 1925 to enroll in Lenoir College (now Lenoir-Rhyne University) in Hickory.

At Lenoir, Owl was a member of multiple college clubs and was elected “Most Popular Boy.” He was also a star athlete, playing football and baseball. He was inducted into the Lenoir-Rhyne Sports Hall of Fame in 2012. According to Lenoir-Rhyne, Owl was the first Cherokee to graduate from a North Carolina college. 

from the Daily Tar Heel, 6 October 1928

Not long after coming to Chapel Hill, Owl was mentioned in a Daily Tar Heel article about UNC’s “most cosmopolitan student body,” which discusses the growing number of international and out-of-state students at the university, despite the fact that Owl was neither an international nor an out-of-state student.    

Owl wrote his master’s thesis on the history of the Cherokee Indians in North Carolina. The thesis, The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Before and After Renewal, is available in Wilson Library.

In 1930, just a year after graduating from UNC, Owl was prohibited from voting in Swain County. A profile in a the Lenoir-Rhyne alumni magazine described what happened:

[Owl’s daughter, Gladys Cardiff] said her father often discussed this incident. “North Carolina had some issue that they knew the tribe would be voting against,” she said. In those days the state had a literacy test for voters. When Owl tried to register, he was turned away on the grounds that he was illiterate. Owl left the courthouse and returned with a copy of his master’s thesis.

The story of Owl’s struggle to vote eventually reached the U.S. Congress, which passed a law affirming that Cherokees in North Carolina were citizens and had the right to vote.

Owl worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a teacher and principal on reservations in North Carolina, Montana, and South Dakota. He moved with his family to Seattle where he worked as a counselor at the Veteran’s Administration and later as an inspector at Boeing. Wary of the racism that he knew he and his family would encounter on leaving the reservation, Owl began using his wife’s last name, Harris. He died in Seattle in 1980.

In addition to the new scholarship named in Owl’s honor, in 2011, the Department of American studies announced an endowed scholarship named The Henry Owl Scholarship Fund for Undergraduate Students.  The scholarship provides need-based assistance to undergraduate majors in the American Studies department, with preference given to those studying American Indian and Indigenous Studies.

Sources and Further Reading:

“Living in Two Worlds,” Profile: The Magazine of Lenior-Rhyne College, Winter 2007.

“The Henry Owl Scholarship and a Class in ‘Gumption,’ UNC Arts & Sciences Magazine, 2014.

“Cherokee Indian Leaders Eloquently Describe to Senators Needs of Tribe.” Asheville-Citizen Times, 27 March 1930.

“Members of Indian Family Win Honors in Scholastic Work.” Asheville-Citizen Times, 27 November 1932

“Owl Family Holds Reunion.” Asheville-Citizen Times, 26 August 1962

“North Carolina Deaths, Funerals: Henry Harris” Asheville-Citizen Times, 11 March 1980

“Lenoir-Rhyne Announces Sports Hall Of Fame Class Of 2012” L-R Athletics, 26 September 2012.

Lenoir-Rhyne University. Hacawa. 1927.

“University Presents Most Cosmopolitan Student Body.” Daily Tar Heel. 6 October 1928.

“First Indian Student at UNC, Henry Owl.” The Carolina Story: A Virtual Museum of University History.

“Henry Owl Fellowship honors American Indian pioneer.” Cherokee One Feather. 31 October 2012.

Noteworthy Firsts: Hortense McClinton

At the University Day celebration on October 11, 2016, Chancellor Carol Folt announced a new program to name scholarships after notable “firsts” in UNC history. In recognition of the individuals recognized as pioneers at UNC, the University Archives is publishing blog posts with more information about each of the twenty-one “firsts.” This post is part of that series.

Hortense McClinton, 2015 (University Gazette.)
Hortense McClinton, 2015 (University Gazette.)

Hortense McClinton: Carolina’s First African American Faculty Member

In July 1966, Hortense McClinton accepted an offer to teach in the UNC School of Social Work. She was the first African American faculty member hired at UNC.

McClinton grew up in Boley, Oklahoma. She attended Howard University and earned a master’s degree in social work at the University of Pennsylvania. McClinton moved to Durham with her husband and was hired by the Durham County Department of Social Services at the Veteran’s Administration hospital. She was the first African American professional social worker employed by the department and the only African American professional on staff at the hospital. McClinton was working for the VA when she received her first offer from UNC in 1964. Reluctant to accept a job funded by term-limited grant money, she refused. When another position in the department was open two years later – this time with more secure funding – UNC reached out to McClinton again and this time she accepted, beginning what would be a nearly 20-year career at Carolina.

Hortense McClinton (left) with students in the School of Social Work ca. 1984. School of Social Work catalog, 1984-1985,
Hortense McClinton (left) with students in the School of Social Work ca. 1984. School of Social Work catalog, 1984-1985,

In a 2011 interview with the Southern Oral History Program, McClinton noted that her presence at the school was a milestone for UNC:  “Some students, I think, were quite shocked to see me, but I really enjoyed the students. They were really open and nice and I felt.”

In 1972, drawing from her personal experiences, McClinton began to teach a course on institutional racism. She explained, “I finally decided, well, if you’ve been taught a certain thing all your life, you have to learn to know something different. That’s when I started the class in institutional racism.” McClinton spent much of her academic career helping students gain the knowledge and skills they would need to provide social services without racial or cultural bias.

1974 School of Social Work catalog.
1974 School of Social Work catalog.

McClinton’s work at UNC ranged far beyond her classes at the School of Social Work. She was appointed to multiple committees, including the Committee on the Status of Women, the Carolina Association of Disabled Students, the Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of the Minorities and the Disadvantaged, and multiple search committees.  McClinton later said that she felt she was on so many committees because she was the only African American faculty member at UNC for three years, and one of just a few for several years after that.

McClinton’s arrival at UNC appears to have gone largely unheralded at the time. Searching through records of UNC administrators in 1966, I could not find any correspondence discussing or protesting the hire; nor could I find anything noting the significance of her appointment. This is in marked contrast to the admission of the first African American students at UNC in the 1950s, which came after lengthy court battles and were well covered in the local media. When the first African American faculty member to be hired as a full professor at UNC – English professor Dr. Blyden Jackson, who came to UNC in 1969 — he was the subject of a feature story in the Daily Tar Heel. McClinton, on the other hand, is barely mentioned in the school paper, at least as far as we could tell through keyword searches in the digitized DTH archives.

McClinton has received many awards and honors professionally and at UNC. She is recognized as a “Social Work Pioneer” by the National Association of Social Workers. At Carolina, the Hortense McClinton Outstanding Faculty Staff Award is presented by the General Alumni Association; the Hortense McClinton Senior Service Award is presented by the Kappa Omicron Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority; and, in 2009, she received a Legacy Award from the Black Faculty Staff Caucus.


“Mrs. McClinton did not study black history – she lived it.” University Gazette, 27 February 2015.

Southern Oral History Program interview with Hortense McClinton, 2011.

National Association of Social Workers, Social Work Pioneers.