The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Turning the Corner on Tate Street

Everyone with a mission

“We can do the picketing. We know how,” Charlotte Vestal Wainright (formerly Brown) '64 was told by an African-American student. Charlotte was student government vice president and head of the student legislature. “If you white girls try to picket, you are unprepared.” Some white girls ultimately proved that prediction wrong.

“We can do the picketing. You have to get that [SGA] agreement for the boycott.”

On May 15, the student legislature endorsed a resolution supporting the proposed selective buying campaign and student picketing of the three businesses. A front page Carolinian piece reported Anne Prince Cuddy, the SGA president, said the situation at the Corner had come to a head and that the administration had used all its powers, yet had achieved no gains. She strongly urged that all students uphold their part in the resolution.

The vote was unanimous. Reporter Janet Hamer wrote in The Carolinian that, after the legislative meeting, interested students remained in Elliott Hall (now EUC) to learn specifics. “Several hundred students were addressed by Beth Ingraham about the purpose and technicalities concerning the picketing,” she wrote.

The May 16 Greensboro Daily News said picketing would take place on Tate Street from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 9 p.m. starting that day and would last one week, ending just before exams began.

The faculty was supportive, Sina and Beth say. Janet reported in The Carolinian that the majority of students honored the boycott.

“It is a boycott by the students of this campus and by these students alone,” a May Carolinian editorial writer said.

The last line of that editorial? “Eat at the Woman's College Dining Hall. It's integrated.”

Grab your sign and go

Imagine the scene: Three groups of students, perhaps three to five in a group, many holding picket signs, politely marching in their traditional class jackets and skirts. “We wore [our] WC blazers on the picket line — a group decision,” Beth recalls. Students would come and relieve others so no one missed a class.

The Town & College restaurant enticed any WC student who'd break the picket line with free tickets to the Cinema Theatre.

The Daily News reported white and African-American women carrying signs reading “All WC Students Are Equal” and “Liberty and Justice For All.”

FACES AND PLACES The Tate Steet movement is a story involving lots of individuals.

Students waiting their turn to picket or just to show support would gather on the grassy hill at the Music Building, Sylvia Eidam '65 recalls, sometimes 40-50 strong. A few professors sometimes joined them. Women arriving or departing for the picketing could drop off their signs there, Sylvia says. Someone would have a guitar. And they'd sing “We Shall Overcome” and songs by folk artists like Joan Baez.

White supremacists held small counter-demonstrations nearby. Janet says they were KKK. Sina does not recall — she expects such a group of course would have been there, so it wouldn't stand out in her memory. Beth says they were the American Nazi Party, judging by a Nazi insignia. They would take pictures of the students, Beth says, and some of the marchers' parents were mailed these photos, as intimidation. She also says some of the parents took their daughters out of school.

It took courage. “I was spat on,” says Sina. So was Janet. Beth recalls “a woman coming and spitting in my face,” as well as slurs by drivers passing by.

“We were really scared,” Sylvia says. No rocks were thrown, just occasional rotten eggs or tomatoes. She knew she could not react. “We had to maintain a stone-faced profile.” She vividly recalls that the greatest number of cars streaming by slowly, passengers starting at them, was right after church let out. One car slowed to a stop in front of her group. The back window rolled down. An African-American woman in her 80s leaned to them from the window. “‘God bless y'all children.’ That's all she said,” Sylvia recalls. “She was determined she'd say it.” The car rolled on.

Beth says she was called into Dean Taylor's office and told, “If there is real trouble, you may not be able to graduate. You'll be held responsible.”

A threatening note was slipped under Beth's door, as well, she says. Its general message? “I'd better watch out.”

“There was bravery that was demonstrated,” Sina reflects, from “those closed out and those included.” Black and white. “Some were very courageous.”

Victory and justice … for all

How did it end? The theater changed its policy sometime before the students returned in the fall. Exactly when the restaurants did is unclear.

The leaders of the student government recall meeting with Herb Apple at The Apple House to try to reach a resolution. The way Anne recalls, they wanted to ensure that if the student government members ate there after their next meeting, all members would be served. “Would you let us try it?” she recalls asking.

Charlotte remembers it a little differently: that they'd been told he was going back on what he'd agreed, and Anne was adamant that it must be opened to all. Charlotte allowed Anne to do the talking, Anne's height working to her advantage over the shorter business owner.

They both recall being nervous; that the meeting was very civil; and they did not know of discrimination on Tate Street afterward. “That was the end of that,” Charlotte says.

“It didn't seem remarkable at the time,” Anne says. “It was the right thing to do.”

In a November 1963 written report to members of the Board of Trustees, Anne noted that the situation had been “straightened out.”

Names, faces and far-flung places

“I looked at those things [a petition and other materials] not so long ago, Sina says. All those who signed the petitions or held the signs or worked for the boycott … where are they now?

Sina is a clinical counselor and administrator in Maryland. Beth is a retired minister in Delaware. Janet just retired as a college professor; her farm's in Virginia. Gwen was in business development and is a textile artist in Mississippi. Anne, after a career in software development, lives in Chapel Hill. Charlotte has retired as founding director of NC State's art museum. Others are scattered throughout the nation.

“Courageous people, at WC,” Sina reflects, “now all over the world, who wanted to do the right thing — so much momentum there.”

When today's students pass in front of Boba House restaurant or Subway or Addams Bookstore, they may not know the history that transpired there. The courage displayed there. There are no plaques. The fact that it's largely lost to history is perhaps the best monument to their actions.

But Sina is among the students of the '60s who well remember.

“There were some very compassionate steps that were taken by students at UNCG.”

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