Segregated Spaces at the UNC School of Dentistry, 1953

Signpost showing two signs with arrows: "Patient Information White" and "Patient Information Colored"
Detail from a photo of the UNC School of Dentistry, ca. 1950s, showing directions to the segregated information counters. UNC Photo Lab Collection (P0031).

The University of North Carolina enforced racial segregation in campus buildings well into the mid 20th century. There is clear evidence of this in documents, publications, and in the recollections of people who studied and worked at Carolina. However, photographs of segregated spaces at UNC are often hard to find. Recently we found a couple of photos from the UNC Photo Lab collection that provide clear evidence of how public spaces on campus continued to be segregated by race into the 1950s.

Sign on a wall reading "Colored Waiting Room. 103 A thru F"
Detail from a photo of the UNC School of Dentistry, ca. 1950s, showing a sign for the “Colored Waiting Room.” UNC Photo Lab Collection (P0031)

These photos are from a series taken by university photographers to publicize the opening of the new dental school building at Carolina. The new dental building (now known as “First Dental”) was a significant milestone in dental education and service at Carolina — in addition to teaching and learning facilities, the new building marked the beginning of patient services offered by the School of Dentistry. Dentistry faculty and students offered clinical services to patients from the local community and across North Carolina. A memo about the opening of the new building states: “There are separate, complete facilities for white and for Negro patients.” (Records of UNC President Gordon Gray, collection 4008, folder 383). The description of separate facilities was repeated in a Daily Tar Heel story about the dental building in December 1952.

The note about facilities for Black patients was intentional. The University clearly wanted to highlight the fact that it would be offering dental services to Black patients who might otherwise rightly have assumed that they would not be admitted to medical facilities at Carolina. However, the announcement was also clear to specify that the spaces would be segregated by race.

The publicity photos also included two showing patients in the separate waiting rooms. It’s hard to tell whether or not these photos represent typical conditions in the waiting rooms, but the differences are striking. The waiting room for white patients is spacious and shows just two people waiting. The waiting room for Black patients is significantly more crowded, with every seat full and one of the patients having to stand.

Waiting room at the UNC School of Dentistry, ca. 1950s. Image shows two white women sitting on couches, one reading a magazine, the other holding a teacup.
Waiting room at the UNC School of Dentistry, ca. 1950s. This appears to the waiting room for white patients.
Waiting room at the UNC School of Dentistry. The room is full, with Black patients filling every seat and one woman standing.
Waiting room at the UNC School of Dentistry, ca. 1950s. This appears to be the separate waiting room for Black patients.

It is noteworthy that the University established segregated patient spaces in 1952, just over a year after UNC was forced to begin admitting Black students to graduate programs. In the summer of 1951, Black students entered Carolina for the first time, enrolling in the School of Law, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the School of Medicine, which was adjacent to the new dental building.

It’s not clear, at least from our initial research, how long the facility continued to operate separate waiting rooms for Black and white patients. When local high school students began challenging segregated businesses in Chapel Hill in February 1960, the protests soon spread to UNC buildings. In April 1963, the UNC chapter of the NAACP picketed North Carolina Memorial Hospital in protest of continued racial segregation of some hospital patients. Most likely racial segregation in the hospital and dental facilities continued in some form until the passage of the federal Civil Rights Act in 1964.

Men’s Varsity Glee Club Summer 1966 Europe trip

In 1966 the UNC men’s varsity Glee Club celebrated their 75th touring season with a month-long tour through Europe, including 21 performances in England, France, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, West Germany, and East Germany. Director Joel Carter (1913-2000) and student members collected a variety of items during their trip, now available in a new addition to the records of the Department of Music in the University Archives.

Dr. Carter’s planning materials include a packing list for club members. Suggested items include: a wool and summer blazer, a dressing gown and slippers, collapsible coat hangers, a shoeshine kit, and “your favorite tummy-ache remedy.” The list discourages liquids as “they are heavy and treacherous!” 

Two copies of the typed packing list given to Varsity Glee Club members for the summer 1966 Europe trip, circa May 1966. One is annotated by hand, the other is a plain copy. The annotated copy is yellowed.
Two copies of the typed packing list given to Varsity Glee Club members for the summer 1966 Europe trip, circa May 1966.
Typed draft letter to Ed Sullivan written by Glee Club members, circa 1965-1966. Annotated by hand and signed Alvin Tyndall and Paul Wyche, two officiers of the club. Alvin Tyndall's name is crossed out.
Typed draft letter to Ed Sullivan written by Glee Club members, circa 1965-1966. Signed Alvin Tyndall and Paul Wyche.


The first stop of the tour brought the club to New York City, where they performed a worship service at St. George’s Church in Greenwich Village followed by a national television performance on the Ed Sullivan show. Dr. Carter’s records include a draft letter by club members to Ed Sullivan requesting to perform on his show. The show, filmed on June 12, 1966, also featured The Dave Clark Five, tap dancer Peter Gennaro, and writer Elwyn Ambrose who recited poetry with a cat puppet.  

Photograph of airline tickets and ticket folders from 1966 European tour.
Airline tickets and ticket folders from 1966 European tour.
Photograph of train and ferry tickets, booklet, and German beer coaster, 1966
Train and ferry tickets, booklet, and German beer coaster, 1966

 Paul Wyche, club president and class of 1967, saved his KLM and Eastern airlines boarding passes. These paper tickets have hand-written and stamped flight information and seat numbers. Two have passport control tickets attached. There are also ferry, bus, and train tickets. Someone collected travel brochures, including foreign currency guides, ferry boat brochures, and a tourist magazine from Copenhagen.   

The Glee Club’s choice of songs, demonstrated in their partial repertoire list, emphasizes American music and composers. The list features two songs by Stephen Foster (1826-1864), sometimes called “the father of American music.” Further underscoring their ‘Americanness,’ they performed at Rebild National Park Society’s American Independence Day celebration, one of the largest Fourth of July celebrations outside of the United States.  

The European tour event program describes an 1895 Glee Club poster calling their performances “rollicking songs, jigs and banjo picking.” The program goes on to say “[t]he banjos and jigs have been packed away with the knickers and knee socks worn by the Club’s earlier members. But the University of North Carolina Men’s Glee Club is still known for its ‘jolly programs’ and ‘rollicking songs.’” They paid homage to their early banjo pickin’ days with the song “Ring de Banjo” by Stephen Foster.  

The club’s oeuvre included African American spirituals; however, many of the African American spirituals performed, with a notable exception of the arrangement of “Were You There?” by Henry Thacker “Harry” Burleigh (1866-1949), were arranged by white composers. The club also performed exclusionary and injurious music, the most conspicuous example being “Dixie,” the unofficial anthem of the Confederacy, which they sang on the Ed Sullivan Show.  

Photograph of the Glee Club in front of the United States building during the 1965-1966 New York Fair. Also included is a news release describing their national tour and upcoming European tour.
Photograph of the Glee Club in front of the United States building during the 1965-1966 New York Fair. Also included is a news release describing their national tour and upcoming European tour.

 The club members found time to sightsee in between performances. Tourist memorabilia is scattered throughout the collection, including museum and Cinerama tickets. Someone saved a hotel shower cap, receipts, and blank postcards. A hastily scrawled note to a member who slept in tells him where to meet the group later that morning.  

Photograph of Paper tickets to various events and locations, including Westminster Abbey, the Musee Nationaeux in Paris, the Cinerama in London, and the Casino in Lucerne. There is also a small flip book of Westminster Abbey.
Paper tickets to various events and locations, including Westminster Abbey, the Musee Nationaeux in Paris, the Cinerama in London, and the Casino in Lucerne. There is also a small flip book of Westminster Abbey.

In a 1986 Chapel Hill Newspaper article on the Glee Club reunion, Betty North described their experiences in Paris: 

By the time the group arrived in Paris, one of the last major stops, the club members were tired and running short of money, North said. The group stayed in a cheap hotel and toured the city in the least expensive way possible: by foot and by subway. “In the winter, the hotel we were staying in was a house for ladies of the night, and the desk clerk was a madame,” North said. “She just couldn’t understand why all these young men were staying there, next to the Moulin Rouge, and not going after the women.”

The members still had plenty of indecorous fun. Two German beer coasters and a ticket for a casino in Lucerne are in the collection. There is also a Playboy Club napkin of unknown American origin—likely from St. Louis or New York City during the national tour.   

Newspaper clipping, Joan Page, “Glee Club’s Visit in Red Area Brings Somber Note to Travels.” 1966.
Newspaper clipping, Joan Page, “Glee Club’s Visit in Red Area Brings Somber Note to Travels.” 1966.

The club’s travel to Leipzig and East Berlin in East Germany, then under Soviet rule, served as a subdued note. A four-page information pamphlet from the United States Mission in West Berlin details the process of traveling into East Berlin. The group shared a general anti-Soviet sentiment in a 1966 newspaper article, describing the land as “creepy,” “completely colorless,” and “dirty, barren and downright spooky.” The article also describes East Germans as glaring at the diesel bus. Student photographer Jock Lauterer photographed the group in East Germany; the negatives of these photos are in the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives in Wilson Library.  

Despite their fundraising efforts, the club ran out of money by the end of the tour. In a letter to the Alumni Annual Giving fund dated September 22, 1966, Dr. Carter asked for a gift to help cover their $3,025.49 deficit. Dr. Carter mentions he enclosed “pictures, news releases, brochures, and other souvenirs of our European Tour.” Perhaps Dr. Carter and members collected memorabilia to give as thank you gifts to their tour sponsors, and this small collection was left.  


Liz Lucas, “Glee Club Recall ’66 Tour,” The Chapel Hill Newspaper, May 11 1986.  

Joan Page, “Glee Club’s Visit in Red Area Brings Somber Note to Travels,” Newspaper clipping, 1966.  



New Acquisition Documents Andy Griffith at UNC

A black and white photo of a young Andy Griffith looking off to his left, taken from the 1947 Yackety Yack.
1947 Yackety Yack

A new addition to the Andy Griffith Papers in the Southern Historical Collection provides a fascinating glimpse into Griffith’s experience as a UNC-Chapel Hill student in the 1940s. The new materials include documents, a letter of recommendation for Griffith, and even a copy of his UNC transcript.

The transcript, from the Department of Music, shows Griffith’s courses and grades and provides a look at how UNC’s requirements have changed over the years.

Griffith received mostly Bs, Cs, and Ds, as well as a few Fs. It’s also quite interesting to note that he fulfilled his “Hygiene” requirement as a student.

A scanned image from April 9, 1949, of a positive recommendation written on Andy Griffith's behalf.
Letter of Recommendation, in the Andy Griffith Papers #4697, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

At the end of his academic career at Carolina, Andy Griffith received a positive recommendation from an unnamed mentor for a teaching position. In this recommendation written in April 1949, Griffith’s mentor compliments his character and leadership qualities, as well as his musical talent. They note that though they feel that he is qualified to teach vocal work, his instrumental work is “fair” since he has less training in instrumental music. The writer makes it clear that Griffith has a “natural ability” in music. 


Lastly, this pamphlet is one of the most interesting amongst the Andy Griffith papers and dates to the early 1950s after he graduated from UNC. It’s a promotional brochure for a program titled “Unique Entertainment,” a performance entertainment service collaboration between Griffith and his wife Barbara Griffith. “Unique Entertainment” consists of singing, dancing, dramatic readings, and comedy sketches that would be tailored to their audience.

From the Archives: The Freelon Group on the Design Philosophy of the Stone Center, ca. 2004.

In the Records of the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for for Black Culture and History, we recently came across a design statement from the Freelon Group, the architects responsible for the Center. The Group was led by Phil Freelon, a North Carolina-based architect of international renown, now best known for his work on the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C. Learn more about Freelon.

The Stone Center pamphlet discusses the group’s “intentional blending of traditional elements of the UNC campus environment with carefully integrated references to African influenced design.” Read more below.

Design Objectives for the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History.
Freelon Group, Design Objectives for the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History.” From the Records of the Sonja Haynes Stone Center (#40341), University Archives.
Design Objectives for the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History, page 2.
Freelon Group, “Design Objectives for the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History.” From the Records of the Sonja Haynes Stone Center (#40341), University Archives.
Design Objectives for the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History, page 3
Freelon Group, “Design Objectives for the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History.” From the Records of the Sonja Haynes Stone Center (#40341), University Archives.

From folder 105, “Center space, 2003-2004, undated.”


New Collection: Martha Flowers Papers

We are excited to announce the Martha Flowers papers are now open for research. This collection contains programs, clippings, and photographs documenting the career and personal life of the legendary actress, singer, and UNC professor. Many of these items highlight Flowers’s performances in “Porgy and Bess” in the 1950s and 1960s.

Flowers, a Winston-Salem native, graduated from Fisk University before continuing her music studies at The Julliard School in New York City where she began her career as an opera singer.

Black and white profile image of Martha Flowers
Wellington Jones Concert series program

The renowned soprano toured internationally in the touring company as Bess in  “Porgy and Bess,” during the 1950s and 1960s, performing in 29 countries on four continents, and received numerous awards. Included in the collections are photographs of the cast in costume, programs from  international shows, and programs from the Flowers’ solo shows.

In 1973, Flowers joined the faculty in the Department of Music at UNC-Chapel Hill, becoming the first Black faculty member in the department. Flowers’s arrival was covered by Sadie Copland for Black Ink, the newspaper of the Black Student Movement. Copland wrote that Flowers “wanted to teach where she was most needed. Since there were no Black music instructors here, but there were Black students in the program, she decided UNC was where she could best fulfill this need.” During her tenure at UNC, she taught courses in voice, diction, and Afro-American music, and performed in faculty recitals in the Hill Hall Auditorium (now Moeser Auditorium).

Martha Flowers at piano with group of UNC Students.
Martha Flowers and UNC class, ca. 1970s.

Learn More:

Marc Callahan, David Garcia, and LaToya Lain, “DWW: Martha Flowers: Black Music Faculty Trailblazer.” UNC Department of Music, 11 November 2020.

UNC-CH honors Black music faculty trailblazer, Martha Flowers. The Durham Voice.

Remembering Martha Flowers (1926-2022). UNC Department of Music, June 3, 2022.

Announcing a Change in Records Management: UNC-Chapel Hill Now Using the UNC System Records Schedule

A New Records Schedule for UNC-Chapel Hill

This spring brought significant news in records management on our campus. Effective immediately, UNC-Chapel Hill will no longer rely on a separate records retention and disposition schedule. Instead, we will use the UNC System schedule.

Why Was This Change Made?

For the past several years, the State Archives of North Carolina, which oversees records management activities throughout state government, has been working to consolidate local schedules in order to ensure consistency across state agencies and to make it easier to update and maintain records schedules. UNC-Chapel Hill was the only UNC System school to maintain a separate records schedule. By using the UNC System schedule we will bring our record retention and disposition practices into line with those of our colleagues at other UNC System schools throughout the state.

What Effect Will This Have on Records Management in My Office?

Probably very little. The retention requirements in the UNC System schedule match those in the separate UNC-Chapel Hill schedule in nearly every case. When there are differences, we will work with the State Archives to determine the proper requirements and update the records schedule as necessary. The biggest thing all of us will have to get used to is looking to a new document for all our records management questions.

What If There are Records in my Office That Are Not Covered in the UNC System Schedule?

This is bound to happen as we work through the process of reconciling the UNC-Chapel Hill schedule with the UNC System requirements. If you have documents in your office that do not appear to be represented in the UNC System schedule, please contact us right away: We’ll work with you to figure out the appropriate retention and disposition plan and will continue to collaborate with the State Archives to ensure that the UNC System schedule covers all record types produced on our campus.

Will My Office Still Need to Work with the UNC-Chapel Hill University Archives?

Yes! We are still your first point of contact for all of your records management questions and will continue to be the repository for the official records of the university. We are still getting used to the UNC System schedule ourselves, but we are available to work with you to interpret the requirements in the records schedule and answer any questions you have.

Will You Offer Training on Using the UNC System schedule?

Yes! We will continue to offer records management training through Carolina Talent. These sessions will cover records management basics and will be updated to reflect the use of the UNC System schedule. Our Guide to Records Management at UNC-Chapel Hill has also been updated and continues to be the best first stop for your records management questions.

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.”

New Names on the Landscape

Zora Neale Hurston Hall sign in the design of a plaque.
Sign for Zora Neale Hurston Hall, created by UNC art student Jeanine Tatlock in 2017.

In the wake of the recent decision by the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees to rescind the 16-year moratorium on building renaming that was enacted in 2015, many members of the UNC community have suggested potential new namesakes for campus buildings and public spaces.

In this post, we’re gathering some of the names that have come up most often and sharing suggested resources for learning more. We’ll update the post with new names and resources based on the feedback we receive.

Pauli Murray

Pauli Murray’s name often comes up in discussions about potential new namesakes for UNC buildings. An influential and inspirational author, activist, lawyer, and Episcopal priest, Murray had lifelong ties to UNC. She was a descendant of university trustee James Strudwick Smith and was related to benefactor Mary Ruffin Smith (namesake of Smith Building at UNC). Murray applied to attend graduate school at UNC in 1938 and was rejected because she was an African American. Four decades later, in recognition of Murray’s exceptional career, UNC offered Murray an honorary degree. She ultimately declined, citing the university’s continued failure to provide equal opportunities to Black students. UNC would not be the first University to name a building for Murray. In 2017 Yale University dedicated Pauli Murray College, a new residential building.

Suggested Resources:

henry owl

Henry Owl, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, became the first Native American student to attend UNC when he enrolled to attend graduate school in 1928. He graduated the following year with a master’s degree in history. Owl’s thesis, The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Before and After Removal, is an important history of the Cherokee.

Suggested Resources:

james cates

Plaque honoring James Cates
This plaque honoring James Cates was installed in the Pit by student activists in February 2019. Photo by Sarah Lundgren, Daily Tar Heel.

Chapel Hill native James Cates was murdered by a white supremacist biker gang in 1970 following a dance on campus. After he was stabbed in the Pit, crucial minutes passed before Cates received medical attention, a delay many on the scene attributed to the inaction of local police. Cates’s killers were ultimately acquitted by an Orange County jury. In 1971 students rallied to protest Cates’s killing. In 2019, while the University community continued to debate the toppling of the statue on top of the Confederate monument, student activists installed a plaque commemorating Cates in the Pit. The memorial was soon removed by campus officials.

Suggested Resources:

Zora Neale Hurston

Banner reading "Hurston Hall" displayed over the door of Saunders Hall in 2015.
Hurston Hall banner on (then) Saunders Hall, April 2015. Photo by Stephanie Lamm, Daily Tar Heel.

In the mid 2010s, UNC student and faculty activists urged campus administrators to rename Saunders Hall for author Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston had a brief connection to UNC through playwright and faculty member Paul Green. Hurston visited campus many times in the late 1930s. She spoke at a drama conference on campus in 1939 and participated in a playwrighting workshop with UNC students at Green’s house. The UNC Board of Trustees ultimately removed Saunders’s name from the building, but neglected to honor Hurston, choosing the new name of Carolina Hall.

Suggested Resources:

Wilson Caldwell

Wilson Swain Caldwell was a 19th-century educator, public official, and university employee. He was enslaved by UNC President David Lowry Swain and was the son of November Caldwell, who was enslaved by the first university president, Joseph Caldwell. After the Civil War, Caldwell helped to found schools for Black students and became the first African American elected official in Orange County when he was elected Justice of the Peace. After the end of Reconstruction and the establishment of Jim Crow laws restricting opportunities for Black North Carolinians, Caldwell returned to UNC to work as the head janitor on campus. He is memorialized, along with his father and two other enslaved workers on campus, by an obelisk in the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery.

Suggested Resources:

  • “Finding Wilson Caldwell: The Study of Slavery at UNC.” Carolina Alumni Review, January 2020. [Online access available to General Alumni Association members.]
  • “Honoring an Unsung Legacy.” University Communications, 27 February 2017.
  • Kemp P. Battle, Sketch of the Life and Character of Wilson Caldwell, 1895. [Note: This account by University President Battle uses condescending language and may not be reliable in its account of Caldwell’s words and thoughts, but it is useful for learning some of the details of Caldwell’s life.]

Elizabeth Brooks and Mary Smith

Elizabeth Brooks and Mary Smith were UNC employees and activists. While working at Lenoir dining hall in the late 1960s, Brooks and Smith advocated for improved pay and working conditions for food service workers at UNC. When these demands were not met, they led a strike that drew the attention of campus and state leaders and ultimately resulted in a change in supervision, improved pay, and the establishment of a statewide minimum wage. After UNC outsourced food service to a private company and working conditions failed to improve, Brooks and Smith were active in a second strike. Their efforts, in collaboration with members of the Black Student Movement and other campus allies, have served as an inspiration for future generations of activists and campus workers as they continue to work toward improved pay and treatment for the University’s front-line employees. 

Suggested Resources:

James Walker, Jr.

James Walker, Jr. was one of the first African American students to attend UNC. A North Carolina native, Army veteran, and alumnus of North Carolina Central University, Walker’s application to attend law school at UNC was initially rejected because of the University’s policy to refuse admission to African Americans. Walker joined the lawsuit that eventually led to the integration of graduate programs at UNC in 1951 and enrolled that summer. While at UNC, Walker fought to integrate social spaces on campus, pushing for the removal of segregated seating in Kenan Stadium and appealing to the Chancellor when university administration refused to allow an integrated dance on campus. After graduation, Walker had a long and successful legal career combined with a continued commitment to Civil Rights activism. In 2019, the Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies announced a plan to commission a portrait of Walker, who was the first Black member of  the Societies, UNC’s oldest student organization. 

Suggested Resources:

slayton evans, jr.

Slayton Evans, Jr. was the first African American faculty member in the Department of Chemistry at UNC-Chapel Hill. A native of Mississippi and alumnus of Tougaloo College, Evans was hired at UNC in 1974 and remained on the faculty until he passed away in 2001. He was named Kenan professor of Chemistry in 1992. Evans developed a reputation as an outstanding teacher and mentor and earned multiple university and professional awards throughout his career.

Suggested Resources:


New Collection Alert: Student Musical Groups

A collection of materials from UNC student musical groups is now available for use in Wilson Library. The collection includes materials from several UNC Student Musical Groups including the Clef Hangers, Loreleis, Tar Heel Voices, and Pauper Players. Collection materials range from the mid 1980s through the mid 2000s, with a lot from the 1990s. The collection includes flyers, posters, and recordings from the groups’ performances.

Student Musical Groups at UNC-Chapel Hill, 1985-2005:

Henry Patrick Merritt, Jr.: An Archival Photo Mystery Revealed

We are pleased to present this guest post from UNC-Chapel Hill student Autumn Linford. Autumn is a Park Fellow in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

Aros Coke Cecil’s photographs could be the work of any UNC undergrad of any era. Playing sports, the Old Well, friends goofing around, socializing with pretty co-eds: the images in Cecil’s 1917-1918 album wouldn’t seem out of place on a student’s Instagram page today.  There are photos of students studying, photos of students procrastinating, and even one of Cecil and a friend clowning around with a classroom skeleton (see figure 1).

There is only one photo in the album that stands out. A young man, college-aged, stands in a dorm room holding a bucket and broom (see figure 2) Pennants and framed pictures are tacked to the wall behind him. It isn’t the scene that sets this photograph apart. It’s the fact that the young man, who looks at home casually leaning up against a desk with neatly stacked books, is black.

Black men and women weren’t allowed to attend the university as students until 1951, following a federal court order that led to the admission of black students to graduate programs. African American undergraduates were not admitted until 1955. There were blacks on campus in 1917, but it was strictly in the role of staff, cooking or doing maintenance jobs or, as was likely case of the young man pictured, cleaning. That this man was photographed by a white student is surprising. That his photograph was carefully preserved in a book alongside Cecil’s other college memories seems remarkable.

While we know something about the photographer, nothing was written down about the young man pictured other than the suggestion that he may have been a janitor for the university’s dorms. Was he friends with Cecil? Was he seen as a mascot to the men in the dorm? Did he appreciate being photographed, or dislike it? Was he important to Cecil, or was this a way to finish out a roll of film?

There is so much that we can never know about this man, but I wanted to try to identify him with however much information I could. Utilizing the resources available online and in the Wilson Library’s collections, I was able to identify the young man in question as Henry Patrick Merritt, Jr.

My process was systematic and replicable. I first confirmed the janitor was, in fact, standing in a dorm room by examining other photographs in the collection and finding other shots of the same room. I then went through each page of Chapel Hill’s 1920 census record and found all black men employed on campus. I narrowed the list down to those working in dormitories, and then again to janitors, leaving about 10 men. It is difficult to tell how old the man in the picture is, but a conservative guess suggests he was between the ages of 15 and 35 at the time of the photograph. By eliminating all men whose ages were outside that frame, I was left with only three names: Johnson Merritt, Jr., Lee Baldwin, and Henry Merritt, Jr.

Other photographs in Cecil’s collection showed the college men receiving their draft information for WWI in 1917. I thought it likely that the black men on campus had received their notices at the same time. I looked up all three men in the WWI databases and found each of their war registration cards. In 1917, Johnson Merritt, Jr. wrote in his occupation as gardener for the college. Lee Baldwin listed his occupation as a laborer.  Henry Merritt, Jr., age 19, listed himself as a janitor for the dormitories at the University of North Carolina.

Merritt was born March 15, 1900 in Chapel Hill. His father, Henry Merritt, Sr. was a long-time janitor for the on-campus fraternity Kappa Sigma. Henry Jr. was the oldest of nine children: six sisters and two brothers. With so many younger siblings, the income Merritt made by working at the university would have been crucial to his family’s survival. At the time, janitors on campus were paid $14.93 a week, a wage that covered barely half of the average living expenses for blacks living in town at the time. Despite that, the wage was still considered “relatively high” for people of color at the time.[1]

After the war, Merritt worked for C. and P. Telephone Co. His father continued to work as a janitor at the university and features prominently in several editions of the Daily Tar Heel, including one with a four-column photograph in 1926 (see figure 3).[2]

A newspaper article titled "Five Cheerleaders at the Game Saturday" with a photo a five black men.
fig. 3 Henry Merritt, Sr. is pictured far right. [Click image to view article.]
We don’t know why Cecil took his photograph of Merritt, or why it was important enough for him to keep. We can’t know what Merritt felt while he posed or what he was thinking as he cleaned up after men he wasn’t allowed to call peers. But we do now know his name. In conjunction with the archivists at the Wilson Library, I have already begun the process of updating the system to include Merritt’s name and basic information. It is by treating him with dignity that we can begin to reckon with the past’s efforts to erase him and others like him.


[1] Dorothy Fahs, report. “Income and expenditure in 28 Chapel Hill Negro Families,” University of North Carolina Wilson Library.

[2] R.W. Madry, “Five Cheerleaders at the Game Saturday.” Daily Tar Heel, November 2, 1926.