Sometimes events get lost in history. Sometimes they are deliberately downplayed at the time. And sometimes a small thing brings them back to light. Last summer, UNCG Magazine assistant editor Mike Harris '93 MA heard about a 1960s student government that was integrated and a Tate Street restaurant that wasn't. After asking alumni to share their memories, the full story began to emerge students coming together to make change happen in their own backyard. Or in this case, their main drag.
If any African-American students had tried to sit and order in a Tate Street restaurant in the early '60s, what would have happened?
We would have been arrested without question, Sina McGimpsey Reid '65 recalls.
A few of the city's eateries served everyone. But the restaurants on Tate Street were segregated, as were almost all restaurants in Southern cities. The street's movie theater, like all local theaters, was segregated as well.
The women of the university took matters into their own hands. The men who owned the Tate Street restaurants, the administration that had limited power in the matter, the white supremacists who spat at the WC'ers as they picketed … they met their match when students bolstered by the student government organized to bring change to the street that adjoins campus.
The result, says Janet Hamer'64,'67 MFA: They integrated. We won.
Almost a part of campus
To the WC women, it was the Corner, the small strip of shops on Tate Steet near Walker Avenue. It was virtually a part of campus. To the students, it was on campus. During that era, students signed out whenever leaving campus, but Sina says you didn't have to sign out to enjoy the shops there.
Many white students, particularly those from northern states, had no idea that the Corner's restaurants were segregated.
Beth Ingraham Doty '64, originally from Connecticut, made the realization during an English class. The professor assigned the students to see a foreign film at the Cinema Theatre. The African-American student beside her confided, I can't go. That moment started Beth's involvement in civil rights, she says. She and some other students talked after class. We were outraged. They all went to the movie, the African-American classmate in a sari to conceal her ethnicity.
Hard to believe, she says, of the racist social mores of the era.
There were stirrings among a minority of the student body for change on Tate Street in 1961 and 1962. Four or five African-American WC students staged a protest there, Gwen Jones Magee '63 says. We did it for several days. It didn't go anywhere, she recalls. The WC students didn't blink an eye about crossing the [picket] line.
Twenty-two African-American WC students signed a letter to student government president Carol Furey Matney '63 in 1962, asking for the organization's support on Tate Street. In February 1963, 23 students signed a letter to Chancellor Otis Singletary, asking for his support. The tone in that letter was one of frustration.
Is it not widely known and seemingly accepted by all that some students cannot attend certain places on campus because of their color? We are denied admittance to the Cinema Theatre and other corner establishments because of that physical trait.
But these establishments were not on campus. Singletary requested an informal meeting with the business owners involved and made that point plain. Accompanied by Dean of Students Katherine Taylor and SGA president Carol Furey, he told them:
- The chancellor has no authority to dictate policy to the businessmen at the Corner.
- The chancellor is requesting unofficially that all students at the Woman's College be served at the Corner eating places and admitted to the Cinema Theatre.
- If the present policy of segregation continues, it is likely that the students will resort to picketing and to a boycott. …
Throughout the state, protests were igniting. In Raleigh, African-American students were indignant that a Liberian diplomat was refused service at a cafeteria. Hundreds marched in protest. In downtown Greensboro, NC A&T students and Bennett students spearheaded demonstrations targeting the city's cafeterias and theaters. Some WC students, such as Beth and Janet, participated in those demonstrations. At least one WC student, Alice Russ Littlefield '63, was arrested arrested twice, she recalls. On one of those occasions, I was told by the sheriff someone from UNCG bailed me out. Archival records indicate that was Dr. Warren Ashby. Many hundreds of A&T and Bennett students filled the jails and temporary facilities. Sina recalls a white WC'er driving her to the makeshift quarters where her boyfriend (now husband), an A&T student, was being held.
Beth remembers the soaring oratory she heard from an A&T student, Jesse Jackson, who emerged as a key leader downtown. UNCG's Tate Street movement had no leader or more to the point, had lots of leaders. It was a grassroots movement, with an egalitarian sense of let's go do this, she explains. Women are like that.
A flyer was created. It listed six contacts for those who wanted to picket, from different residence halls: Alison Greenwald, Caroline Ulrey, Diane Oliver, Sina McGimpsey, Doris Johnston and Beth Ingraham. Three were black; three were white.
Change was in the air. As a column in The Carolinian said, Now is the time for this college to take a stand.