Published: May 21, 2008 08:58 AM
Modified: May 21, 2008 08:58 AM
A low stone wall still divides the black and white sections in an 18th-century cemetery that sits on the UNC campus, surrounded by the New South bustle of 21st-century Chapel Hill.
That boundary lines out a chapter in a story of segregation, oppression and race relations that has long been part of Chapel Hill's past.
The wall through the cemetery also will be a stop on a civil rights walking tour on Tuesday, sponsored by the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.
Tim McMillan, a professor in UNC-Chapel Hill's African and Afro-American studies department, will lead the hour-long tour, set to begin at 6 p.m.
McMillan could spend all day in the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery at the corner of Country Club and South roads across from the university athletic fields. But that tract will be just one of the civil rights-related spots highlighted on a walk that will wind through the UNC campus and into downtown.
"The legacy of the past is still present in the future," said McMillan, who will lead participants to locations such as Lenoir Dining Hall, the site of a 1960s strike when mostly black employees demanded better pay and fairer treatment.
The tour also will highlight landmarks with a more obscure civil rights connection.
Participants will pause by the elegant coral walls of Old East, one of the oldest dormitories on the campus. They will learn it was built by slaves.
"The fabric of Chapel Hill ... was very much tied to slavery," said McMillan, who will tell tour-goers how slaves not only built many of the antebellum buildings at the university, but also acted as waiters to its students and staff.
The tour will include stops at campus sites including South Building and the Old Playmakers Theater. As it moves up to Franklin Street, McMillan's comments will move up a century as he talks about how many Franklin Street establishments remained all-white-only even after the first black students were admitted to UNC in the 1950s.
Thanks to a couple of relatively new monuments, McMillan will have concrete examples on the tour with which to illustrate civil rights thinking and race relations in modern Chapel Hill.
One of those is the Unsung Founders Memorial in McCorkle Place. Installed in 2005, the memorial -- which features a stone tabletop supported by 300 bronze figurines -- carries an inscription that reads that the piece "honors the university's unsung founders, the people of color bond and free who helped build the Carolina that we cherish today."
The memorial was the UNC senior class gift for 2002.
The memorial is near an older university monument -- Silent Sam, a statue of a Confederate soldier, erected in 1913 to commemorate the "sons of the university" who fought for the South in the Civil War.
Silent Sam has periodically been the focus of controversy; calls have arisen from time to time that the statue, which some have seen as a monument to slavery, should come down.
Those calls have never been heeded, and the statue still stands in its prominent location, near the Franklin Street entrance to campus.
Silent Sam, in fact, is where the civil right walking tour will begin. McMillan said he will talk about why the university felt the need to memorialize the Civil War 50 years after its end, during one of the most repressive periods of the Jim Crow era. He will talk about what that means to black students now, and why or why not the statue should be allowed to stay.
All of it is just part of the continuing story.
DID YOU KNOW?
- At the time of the Civil War, 40 percent of Chapel Hill's population was black. It's now 12 percent. UNC professor Tim McMillan attributes the lowered number partly to the relatively recent gentrification of several black neighborhoods.
- The first black students were admitted to UNC-Chapel Hill in the 1950s. UNC's undergrad population is now around 12 percent.
- In 2006 a south campus dorm was renamed George Moses Horton Hall to honor a Chatham County slave who worked odd jobs at UNC, including penning poems for students that eventually gained him national recognition as a poet.
- Wilson Caldwell is honored with a memorial in the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery. The son of slaves who belonged to two different UNC-Chapel Hill presidents, he spent his youth working jobs around UNC. He was elected to Chapel Hill's Board of Commissioners in 1886.