The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Betty Carter article image
The memory keeper
interviewed by Beth English '07 MALS, UNCG magazine editor
Photography by Chris English, photography editor

Whenever a question about university history pops up, everyone says, “Call Betty.” Betty Carter knows it all. Want to know about the “spaghetti incident”? Ask Betty. Want to know which of our students participated in the 1960 sit-ins? Ask Betty. Want to know about the black stocking girls? Ask Betty.

When Betty first came to UNCG in 1974, she took on the role of the library's first archivist. In addition to organizing a treasure-trove of accessible historical documents and memorabilia, she spearheaded the Women Veterans Historical Collection, painstakingly collecting letters, papers, photographs, published materials, uniforms, artifacts and oral histories. The collection now bears her name.

Just before she retired this spring, she answered questions about university oddities, streakers and her ongoing fascination with the university's founder, Charles Duncan McIver.

As you're clearing out your desk and finding various things, what have you been finding? Anything interesting?     The one thing I did find that was interesting to me was about the sit-ins. How this file got on my desk I do not have a clue, but as long as I've been here, sometimes files just appear on my desk.

I opened it up and the first thing was a carbon copy of a letter from Gordon Blackwell, Feb. 10, 1960, to Marie Lineberger, Class of 1918. We have always tried to figure out the date (our alumni participated in the sit-ins) for sure — because in all honesty the women do not remember. We determined in all likelihood Ann Dearsley Vernon, Marilyn Lott and Genie Seaman were there on the fourth, a Thursday, because their photograph appeared in the paper on the fifth. Betsy (Toth) went on the fifth by herself. She was not with the other three.

In this letter that Blackwell was writing to the alum, it says, “Thank you for your letter, I really appreciate it. I told the girls they could not do this anymore.” In her letter to him, she mentioned that these girls were wearing their jackets, which was the flash point, we had figured that out. “You're right — when they wear the jackets they represent the college and they just cannot participate in this anymore.” He said, “We know there were three there on Thursday, a fourth one on Friday.”

It finally tied it together. It just made my day. It was the last puzzle piece. I was in heaven.

Was UNCG your first job?     No, I had worked in the state archives in Raleigh for over four years. Came here and I was the first archivist hired at the library.

Even today people don't know what an archivist is or what they do.

How do you define it?     The way I define an archivist is a person who saves history and makes it accessible. Archivists are often confused with activists, archeologists, anthropologists, and I will never forget this — I was having a kidney stone attack and when I went to the doctor I had to fill out all these sheets of paper — your history, your profession. The doctor (looked down at what I wrote for my profession and) asked, “You are an anarchist?” Yeah. That's always been my personal favorite.

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Founding celebration

A number of things are planned to celebrate founding president Charles Duncan McIver this year.

An exhibit celebrating his life will be on display in the Jackson Library lobby from Sept. 10 to late October.

And the annual Founders Day event will undergo a few changes this year. First, the October event is moving to the first day of homecoming week (Sept. 20), which is near his birthday.

The day will begin traditionally, by placing wreaths at the gravesites of all the former chancellors, followed by an invitation-only brunch. Then a poetry reading by the Randall Jarrell poetry contest winner, Rebecca Warren '81 MFA, '86 MA, will be held in the Virginia Dare Room of the Alumni House.

Finally, the festivities will be capped off with a noon party in Taylor Garden, complete with steel drummers, a cake decorating contest and birthday cake cutting.

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Location: 1000 Spring Garden Street, Greensboro, NC 27403
Mailing Address: PO Box 26170, Greensboro, NC 27402-6170
Telephone: 336.334.5000
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Last updated: Tuesday, 04 October 2011
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