A Sudden Ending and a New Beginning: The Assasination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Birth of UNC’s Black Student Movement

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Birmingham, AL on April 30th, 1966.  From the Records of the Black Student Movement, #40400, University Archives, Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Birmingham, AL on April 30th, 1966. From the Records of the Black Student Movement, #40400, University Archives, Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

On April 4th, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.  As the nation reeled in shock, UNC-Chapel Hill also reacted to the vicious ending of a life dedicated to the non-violent pursuit of Civil Rights.

UNC-Chapel Hill officials held a memorial service attended by over 2,000 people, but the Black Student Movement (BSM) staged its own remembrances of Dr. King. On April 6th, members of the BSM marched down Franklin Street and burned several Confederate flags on the lawn of the Kappa Alpha Fraternity house.  At the time, Kappa Alpha was supportive of the Old South and the Confederacy.

In addition to holding a separate memorial service for Dr. King, the BSM also called on the campus’ African American workers to not attend work on April 9th.  Although Chancellor Sitterson had announced a half-day for campus workers on April 7th, Preston Dobbins (the president of the BSM) encouraged the day of remembrance because he felt that the University had not responded to Dr. King’s assassination with the appropriate amount of respect. Ninety percent of the African American workers on campus stayed home from work that day.

The Constitution of the Black Student Movement from folder 25, box 3, of the Records of the Black Student Movement, #40400, University Archives, Wilson Library, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Constitution of the Black Student Movement from folder 25, box 3, of the Records of the Black Student Movement, #40400, University Archives, Wilson Library, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The BSM may be most remembered for the 23 demands of December 1968, but the students’ collaboration with the campus workers in the wake of Dr. King’s assassination was an important first step in the relationship between the two groups. Over the years, students of the BSM have supported UNC-Chapel Hill’s non-academic workers such as groundskeepers, food workers, and housekeepers.

Today, we at University Archives remember the life and death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the birth of the Black Student Movement on our campus.  Although the group began in such dark times, we commend them for forging relationships on our campus and moving forward.

Visit The Carolina Story, UNC’s virtual history museum, for more information on the Black Student Movement.

Dr. Tim McMillan on WUNC

If you missed Tim McMillan’s Black and Blue Tour this semester, which traces African American history at UNC, you can listen to Dr. McMillan speak with WUNC’s Phoebe Judge about the origins of and controversies surrounding some of the monuments on campus. Listen here.

Unsung_Founders_Bound_and_Free
The Unsung Founders Memorial, McCorkle Place

 

 

1960 Sit-In at Colonial Drugstore

Chapel Hill’s first sit-in took place at Colonial Drugstore (now, West End Wine Bar) on February 28, 1960, led by students from the all-black Lincoln High School. If you haven’t already, check out Wilson Library’s online exhibit from 2007, “I Raised My Hand to Volunteer,” where you’ll find this and other gems:

(March 1960: Leaflet, "Wanted: Picketers". Records of the Office of Chancellor - William B. Aycock Series (#40020), University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.)

Black & Blue Tour: A History of African Americans at UNC

Learn about the history of African-Americans at UNC and explore the campus’s historical landmarks in context of the university’s racial history by taking the Black & Blue Tour on Friday, February 24.  Sponsored by the UNC’s Visitors’ Center as part of their spring series of “Priceless Gem” tours relating to UNC history, the tour begins at 2pm at the Unsung Founders Memorial on McCorkle Place.

Eli Merritt (foreground) and unidentified student group, ca. 1886
Eli Merritt (foreground) and unidentified student group, ca. 1886 (North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives.

For more information about the history of African-Americans at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, please check out the following online exhibits:

Slavery and the Making of the University:  http://www.lib.unc.edu/mss/exhibits/slavery/

The Carolina Story:  A Virtual Museum of University History
Slavery and the University: https://museum.unc.edu/exhibits/slavery/
African Americans and Segregation: https://museum.unc.edu/exhibits/segregation/
African Americans and Integration: https://museum.unc.edu/exhibits/integration/
Black Student Movement at Carolina: https://museum.unc.edu/exhibits/black_student_movement/