“Proving a Secret is Difficult”: Zora Neale Hurston at UNC

Image of the Zora Neale Hurston Hall plaque created by UNC MFA candidate Jeanine Tatlock.

On May 28, 2015, the UNC Board of Trustees voted to remove the name of Ku Klux Klan leader and Confederate Army colonel William Saunders from a campus building and rename it “Carolina Hall.” Additionally, the Board voted to place a 16-year moratorium on renaming campus buildings. The removal of Saunders’ name came after decades of work by student activists on campus, particularly the collaborative efforts of student organizations (the Black Student Movement, Real Silent Sam Coalition, and the Campus Y) in 2014.

Activists had urged the administration to rename the building for renowned black anthropologist and novelist Zora Neale Hurston. They cited a belief that Hurston attended UNC as a “secret student” in 1940, more than a decade before the first African American students were admitted to Carolina.

Even after the Trustees’ decision, student activists continued to celebrate Hurston’s life and call for a new name for Carolina Hall. In the fall of 2015, student activists held an “opening ceremony” for Hurston Hall. A statement by the Real Silent Sam coalition acknowledged the importance of naming the building for Hurston: “We named this building after Zora Neale Hurston precisely because racist and sexist admissions policies excluded her and other Black women from UNC.”

In March 2017, UNC MFA candidate Jeanine Tatlock added an additional plaque to the building, naming it Zora Neale Hurston Hall and acknowledging that “against all odds and despite a system that did everything in its power to keep [Hurston] from attending college she went on to become one of America’s most celebrated authors.”

From what we can tell, the Board of Trustees never collectively addressed the idea of renaming Saunders Hall for Zora Neale Hurston. However, in a letter to the Daily Tar Heel editor in 2017, UNC Trustee Alston Gardner argued that students never formally proposed the name change from Saunders to Hurston. Responding to the suggestion, Gardner wrote, “of course, proving a secret is difficult, so I applied a reasonableness test and came up short.” Many details of Zora Neale Hurston’s connection to Carolina are unclear, but the question of whether or not she was really a secret student here before UNC integrated in 1951 still remains on many of our minds. After an extensive search of resources in the Wilson Special Collections Library (and some from the University of Kansas’ Kenneth Spencer Research Library) we’ve established the following:

According to Cecelia Moore’s The South as a Folk Play: The Carolina Playmakers, Regional Theatre and the Federal Theatre Project, 1935-1939, in 1934, Zora Neale Hurston met playwright and UNC professor Paul Green and Carolina Playmakers founder Frederick Koch at the National Folk Festival in St. Louis, Missouri (p. 167). Recruited by Koch, Zora Neale Hurston came to North Carolina in 1939 to assume a theater teaching position at North Carolina College for Negroes in Durham (now North Carolina Central University)(Moore, p. 154).

Daily Tar Heel, 7 October 1939.
Daily Tar Heel, 7 October 1939, describing Hurston’s presentation at the Carolina Dramatic Association.

Hurston is now best known for her folktales and novels telling black stories, but in the 1930s she was invested in writing and producing folk plays: plays that highlighted everyday black life. On October 7, 1939, Hurston spoke at the fall meeting of the Carolina Dramatic Association, a statewide organization of theater directors and educators. The group met in Playmakers Theater on UNC’s campus. The following day, the Daily Tar Heel quoted her as telling the group, “Our drama must be like us, or it doesn’t exist.” She wanted to create theater that better exhibited the fullness of black life. Green, drawing from the legacy of the Carolina Playmakers under Frederick Koch, was similarly interested in writing folk plays.  He wrote and produced many works and won a Pulitzer Prize in May 1927 for the play In Abraham’s Bosom

Daily Tar Heel article describing the Sunday night Radio Writing and Production course, lists Zora Neale Hurston among other students, March 30, 1940. 

In the spring semester of 1940, Hurston joined Paul Green’s small theater group. The March 30, 1940 issue of the Daily Tar Heel lists Zora Neale Hurston among the students in Green’s “Radio Writing and Production” course, meeting Sunday nights in Caldwell Hall. A class of that name does not appear in the catalog for the 1939-1940 academic year, suggesting that it may not have been officially offered through the University. Several of the class participants, including Hurston, were not enrolled at UNC at the time. There is also conflicting information about where they met: Hurston biographer Robert Hemenway writes in Zora Neale Hurston: a Literary Biography that they moved to Green’s home due to a complaint from a white student (p. 255), while Laurence G. Avery in A Southern Life: Letters of Paul Green, 1916-1981 says the meetings were always at Green’s house (p. 312).  In a 1971 interview with Robert Hemenway, Paul Green said they often had to work “sort of specially separate from the class,” and she would come to his house quite often.

Although Paul Green was the instructor for the course, his relationship with Hurston appeared to be more collaborative. In one energetic letter, Hurston writes to Green imploring him to send someone to record a spiritual she found at a black church in South Carolina. The spiritual could help them in the writing of their play, with the working title John De Conqueror. In the letter, she says, “Now, don’t sit there Paul Green, just thinking! Do something!” (p. 312). She feared a fellow student would record the spirituals and sell them before they could use it in their work. Unfortunately, the recordings weren’t made, and John De Conqueror was never finished.   

Daily Tar Heel article describing the Sunday night Radio Writing and Production course, lists Zora Neale Hurston among other students, March 30, 1940.

Despite not being officially recognized as a student, the spirit of the plaque students placed on Carolina Hall two years ago is still represented in Zora Neale Hurston’s abundant life as a black scholar. Her work initially received mixed reviews, but by the time she arrived in North Carolina, she had already earned a bachelors degree from Barnard College in 1928 and published several noteworthy books—including one of her most popular works, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Paul Green said in that 1971 interview that he remembered Hurston driving around campus in her “little red sports car” with a “jaunty little tam o shanter” on her head. Students would “jeer” as she drove by. On one occasion, he recalled, even the professors mocked her — she responded by calling “Hi, freshmen! Hi, freshmen!” It seems she never backed down from a challenge.

As Gardner noted, “proving a secret” is a challenge, and one archivists face often. Reference archivists frequently receive questions about aspects of campus history that, for many reasons, went undocumented or unpreserved. It is a struggle to find answers and adequate evidence to support them. It all depends on what has been collected and preserved. When we find these gaps in the historical record, it is frustrating but encourages us to think more deeply about what we’re collecting now and its uses in the future. In the case of Zora Neale Hurston at UNC and many parts of university history that we take extra time to research, we relish in the small crumbs we have but find ourselves hungry for more information.

Learn More: “Saunders Hall” essay in Reclaiming the University of the People: Racial Justice Movements at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Charlotte Fryar, 2019.

Sources:

Carolina Hall History

The Daily Tar Heel

Frederick H. Koch Papers, 1893-1979.

Letter to the Editor of the Daily Tar Heel

Paul Green Interview, 1971, Personal Papers of Robert E. Hemenway, PP 487, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Paul Green Papers, 1880-2009

The South as a Folk Play: The Carolina Playmakers, Regional Theatre and the Federal Theatre Project, 1935-1939 [in the Carolina Digital Repository]

A Southern Life: Letters of Paul Green, 1916-1981

UNC T-Shirt Archive

University Archives Web Archives

William Laurence Saunders Papers, 1712-1907.

Zora Neale Hurston: a Literary Biography

Noteworthy Firsts: Vermont C. Royster

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.

When Vermont C. Royster began his studies at UNC in 1931, he was no stranger to the campus.  He was born in Raleigh, and his father, Wilbur Royster, was a professor of Greek and Latin at the university. Although Royster did receive his degree in Classics, his mark on UNC as a student, alumnus, and professor was made through his journalism — writing for the Wall Street Journal and later teaching at the School of Journalism. Royster was one of the first UNC alumni to receive a Pulitzer prize in 1953 (the same year as W. Horace Carter), and he later received a second Pulitzer in 1984.

Royster’s profile in the 1935 Yackety Yack.

Royster began his journalism career at UNC, where he worked for several campus publications, including The Daily Tar Heel and The Student Journal.  During his senior year, he revived and wrote a column in the Daily Tar Heel titled “Around the Well,” which highlighted and described various campus happenings and gossip.

In addition to being drawn to journalism at UNC, he was also an active writer and participant in the Department of Dramatic Arts.  As part of a play-writing course, he wrote and staged two plays — Shadows of Industry and Prelude — both of which can be found in the archives.

After graduating, Royster went on to begin the journalism career for which he is well known.  He moved to New York and began working for the Wall Street Journal in 1936.  He retired from the Wall Street Journal in 1971 and joined UNC’s School of Journalism as a faculty member later that year.  Over the course of his career — both as a professional journalist and university professor — he won two Pulitzer Prizes: the first in 1953 for Editorial Writing and the second in 1984 for Commentary.

Royster died in 1996, and his personal papers are housed in the Southern Historical Collection at Wilson Library. In addition, Royster published several books over the course of his life — including My Own, My Country’s Time, A Pride of Prejudices, and Journey Through the Soviet Union — all of which can be found in UNC Libraries.

Sources & Additional Readings:

Collection of “Around the Well” columns

“Vermont C. Royster (1914-1996),” written by Will Schultz.  North Carolina History Project. http://northcarolinahistory.org/encyclopedia/vermont-c-royster-1914-1996/.

Vermont Royster papers #4432, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The Essential Royster: a Vermont Royster reader. edited by Edmund Fuller. Chapel Hill, N.C. : Algonquin Books, 1985.

My Own, My Country’s Time: a journalist’s journey. Vermont Royster. Chapel Hill, N.C. : Algonquin Books, 1983.

A Pride of Prejudices. Vermont Royster. Chapel Hill, N.C. : Algonquin Books, 1984.

Journey through the Soviet Union.  Vermont Royster. New York, D. Jones [1962].

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.

German Language during World War I

Everything gets more stressful when parents get involved, especially choosing courses. In 1918, Llewellyn French signed up for a chemical engineering course that required 2 years of German.  At the time, the U.S was fighting Germany in World War I.  The war sparked a backlash against German culture and language.  Llewellyn’s father, William, protested his son’s enrollment in German language in a letter to University President Edward Kidder Graham, “I thought every true American institution had discarded everything pretaining [sic] to the cursed German nation, and I assure you I for one am just red blooded enough not to allow it in my family.  German cannot be spoken in my presence.”

President Graham responded the next day, explaining that the chemistry faculty found that students who didn’t read German had difficulty in that particular course. While it might seem like chemistry has nothing to do with foreign language,  in the early 20th century many scientific texts were written in German.  He further presented his own position on the language debate, arguing that educated men should continue learning German.   After all, he said, “I do not think we should cease to study cancer simply because the cancer preys upon the healthy body.”  However, Graham conceded that elementary schools should teach French, the language of America’s ally, rather than German.

This is not the only time that President Graham was asked to weigh in on the debate over German language. Other university presidents and the United States Commissioner of Education sent letters requesting that Graham make a public statement on his position.  These letters, including the elder French’s incendiary missives, are preserved in the University of North Carolina Papers at the University Archives.  You can see part of the exchange below:

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

The Inauguration of Frank Porter Graham, 1931

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Daily Tar Heel, 11 November 1931

Today in Chapel Hill, Margaret Spellings will be formally installed as the eighth president of the University of North Carolina System. As a proud UNC student and for my first blog post as a graduate assistant in the University Archives, I decided to look back at the inauguration ceremony of the first UNC System president, Frank Porter Graham.

Graham’s appointment as President of the UNC System followed just a year after he was inaugurated as President of UNC-Chapel Hill. There does not appear to have been a separate ceremony when he became system president, but his inauguration as UNC-Chapel Hill President was an elaborate event.

President Graham was officially sworn into office November 11, 1931.  It was no casual affair, either; according to the Daily Tar Heel, five thousand people came out to witness the ceremony.  The ceremony itself was planned to coincide with Armistice Day and the annual meeting of the Association of American Universities. 

Footage of Frank Porter Graham’s inauguration procession. From the North Carolina Collection.

The ceremony began with a procession from Bingham Hall to Kenan Stadium. As bells chimed from South Building, ten different divisions of marchers assembled at Bingham Hall, including student body representatives, the class of 1909 (Graham’s own graduating class), North Carolina state officials, and representatives from other universities across the United States. A trumpet signaled the beginning of the procession. As everyone took their place in Kenan Stadium, two minutes of silence were observed to honor the World War I armistice and the thirteen years of peace since then. North Carolina Governor O. Max Gardner opened the ceremony, and due to the absence of North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice W. P. Stacy, the Honorable W. J. Adams administered the oath of office. The whole ceremony was specially amplified so everyone in the large stadium would be able to hear the proceedings.   

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Caption reads: “W.J. Adams, associate justice of the North Carolina supreme court, in the left of this photograph, is administering a formal oath inducting Frank Porter Graham into the presidency of the University, yesterday morning. Immediately behind the president is Governor O. Max Gardner. Other dignitaries concerned with the occasion appear in the background.” From the Daily Tar Heel, 12 November 1931

After the official swearing-in ceremony, the day continued with more events – a luncheon, official meet-and-greets with various university representatives, and musical performances by the music department and the glee club.  Since the 33rd annual meeting of the American University Association began the day following Graham’s inauguration, a large number of university officials were present for the ceremony and following events.  These officials included deans and presidents from Harvard, Columbia, Northwestern, and more.

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Caption reads: “Pictured above are five distinguished men in the educational world who will be among the sixty-seven delegates attending the thirty-third annual meeting of the Association of American Universities which opens at the University of North Carolina Thursday, November 12. They also represented their institutions at the inauguration of President Frank Graham. Top row, left to right: Dean Howard Lee McBain of Columbia university, President Walter Dill Scott of Northwestern university, and Dean W. Whatley Pierson of the University of North Carolina, who is chairman of the committee on arrangements. Bottom row: Dean George H. Chase of Harvard university, and Dean H. Lamar Crosby of the University of Pennsylvania.” Daily Tar Heel, 12 November 1931

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Daily Tar Heel, 11 November 1931

The Daily Tar Heel‘s dedicated inauguration issue didn’t skimp on descriptions of the event and praise for Graham and the future of the University, and so I end this post with a couple of my favorites quotes — ones that seemed to sum up the student body’s and the larger academic world’s opinion of the event and President Graham himself.

“Frank Porter Graham, who more than any other by his peculiar qualities of absolute impartialness, sincere support of the Ideal, unusual humanity, and indefatigable energy on behalf of the University and the state personifies that which education in its usefulness and inspirational service to the community and the commonwealth strives to accomplish.”


“Long now has education been satisfied to rest in conservatism restrained by tradition, when it should be the intellectual beacon guiding men onward into unknown but knowable. Too long have universities been sepulchers for the imprisoned culture of past ages. The time is at hand to loose Wisdom and Culture from their dungeons that they may serve mankind.  The presidency of Frank Porter Graham by its enlightenment can be the single greatest factor in lifting North Carolina from the intellectual rear guard of the forty-eight states to that position of preeminence which its long and illustrious history deserves.”

Daily Tar Heel, 11 November 1931

Exam Spoilers…for Fall 1885

Could you pass finals in 1885?

While looking through the University Papers this week, I found these exams administered at the end of the fall semester in 1885. There is one for Chemistry, Astronomy, Physics and English. Some of the questions would be familiar to a student today, but others, not so much. Can you tell us “what are the defects of our Alphabet?”

Exams administered December 1885 (from the University Papers, #40005, University Archives).

Update: The Curious Case of the Cuban Club

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the Cuban Club, a short-lived club for Cuban students at UNC in the early 20th century. This week, I came across a letter written just months after the Spanish-American War in which Major General Joseph Wheeler, president of the Cuban Educational Association, tells UNC President Edwin Alderman that he “note[s] with pleasure that you state that the University of North Carolina would easily give scholarships, remitting all tuition to several [Cuban students].”

The Cuban Educational Association operated from 1898 to 1901 and partnered with colleges across the United States to send Cuban and Puerto Rican college-age students to school in the United States. Universities and colleges offered one to two students a full scholarship to cover books, tuition and fees. The students and their families had to cover the cost of living, usually $200 – $300 annually. Therefore, most of the students coming to the United States were from the middle and upper classes. The scholarship mandated that the students return home after graduation.

Over the four years it was in operation, the Cuban Educational Association and its over 50 partner institutions helped to send over 2,500 students to school in the United States. When these students returned home, most became teachers, doctors and lawyers in their communities.

This letter was written 10 years before the Cuban Club appeared in the Yackety Yack, but it suggests that the influx of students from Cuba in the early 20th century may have been related to work begun by the Cuban Educational Association.

Letter to Dr. Alderman from Joshua (from the University Papers, #40005, University Archives).

Original Post: The Curious Case of the Cuban Club

Training Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) at UNC

“Opportunities for Defense Training at Chapel Hill" brochure,” UNC Libraries, accessed February 23, 2016, http://exhibits.lib.unc.edu/items/show/2686.
“Opportunities for Defense Training at Chapel Hill” brochure,” UNC Libraries, accessed February 23, 2016, http://exhibits.lib.unc.edu/items/show/2686.

In March of 2015, the Army stated that women who had served as Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) in World War II were not eligible for burial in Arlington National Cemetery. This was a  reversal of the 2002 decision that allowed them to be interred at Arlington with full military honors. The Senate and the House now have bills on the floor  to overturn the Army’s decision. This controversy has sparked a renewed interest in who the WASPs were and what they did during their service in World War II.

The Women Airforce Service Pilots were a group of over 1,000 women that ferried aircraft around the country, towed dummy aircraft during live artillery training, taught as flight instructors and tested new planes.  This freed up qualified male pilots for combat duty overseas. The program began in 1942 as two separate branches, which then merged under the WASP name in 1943. During their time, the WASPs flew every military aircraft available and were trained in everything the men did, except combat exercises. The very first female pilots in the program had to enter the program with at least 200 hours of flight time. That is where the story brings us to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

[CAA requirements for a Civilian Pilot Training Program, from the Office of President of the University of North Carolina (System): Frank Porter Graham Records, 1932-1949 , #40007, University Archives]

The UNC System was home to a Civilian Pilot Training Program. N. C. State was the first school in the system to host the program. Later, UNC Chapel Hill and North Carolina A&T started their own versions of the program, along with Duke and other colleges around the state. Any student, male or female, was allowed to take the ground portion of the classes for college credit. These classes taught basic aviation theory as well as airplane maintenance. Ground classes were known as primary training. Women students took these classes and anticipated that they would be allowed to continue into flight training.

[Letter inquiring about allowing a female student into flight training, from the Office of President of the University of North Carolina (System): Frank Porter Graham Records, 1932-1949 , #40007, University Archives]

However, actual flight training, or secondary training, was limited to a quota imposed on the university by the Civilian Aviation Authority. The CAA provided most of the funding for flight training and was therefore able to dictate who could participate in secondary courses. The entire purpose of the Civilian Pilot Training Program was to feed the graduates directly into military service and women were not allowed to fly at all in a military capacity before the WASPs program. Therefore, women were only allowed into flight training when the total number of qualified male pilots was less than the quota allotted.

Memo explaining CAA quotas, from the Office of President of the University of North Carolina (System): Frank Porter Graham Records, 1932-1949 , #40007, University Archives
Memo explaining CAA quotas, from the Office of President of the University of North Carolina (System): Frank Porter Graham Records, 1932-1949 , #40007, University Archives

The UNC administration did all they could to prove that discrimination was not the reason female trainees had a difficult time getting into flight training, and celebrated the women who made it through both parts of the program. The first woman to complete the entire Civilian Pilot Training Program at UNC, including both ground and flight training, was Virginia Broome. She graduated from UNC in 1942 and became a WASP in 1943. As a ferry pilot she, ferried completed military aircraft from factories to the point of embarkation.  Only four women completed the entire course of training at UNC. Of these four, only Virginia Broome (later Virginia Broome Waterer)  became a WASP.

For more information about the University of North Carolina during World War II, see the online exhibit A Nursery for Patriotism: The University at War, 1861-1945.