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A member of the Black Student Movement raises a defiant fist Click on the above image to go directly to the documents and photographs for Episode 3. (Above: A member of the Black Student Movement raises a defiant fist; Photograph from the 1969 Yackety Yack.)

Part 3: The BSM and the Foodworkers' Strike

The decade of the 1960s saw the University moving only slowly into integrating African American students and faculty into its ranks. In fall 1967, the UNC Admissions Office reported 113 African American students enrolled out of a total of 13,352. That semester, during a regular meeting of the campus chapter of the NAACP, student Preston Dobbins introduced a motion to abolish the NAACP chapter and regroup as the Black Student Movement (BSM). The BSM was officially recognized by the UNC administration in December 1967. (1)

Meanwhile, though desegregation was the official stance of the University, discriminatory practices against African American job applicants and employees continued. In fall 1968, nearly 100 percent of the University's non-academic service personnel were African American. In contrast, black students made up less than 1.5 percent of the total enrollment in 1968, and the first black professor had just been appointed in 1966. The University had no history of significant labor unrest, but storm clouds were gathering over Lenoir Dining Hall, a central gathering place for the campus community of students, faculty, and staff. University foodworkers had a number of grievances, including inadequate pay, inaccurate job classifications, and the insensitive behavior of supervisors. According to the workers, food service director George Prillaman kept them under an organized system of oppression, making them work split shifts, keeping them on the temporary payroll after they had completed their 90-day probationary period, charging them for meals they didn't eat, and refusing to listen to their grievances despite repeated attempts to communicate them.

In October 1968, a group of employees sent a memorandum to the "Employers of Lenoir Dining Hall" with a list of 21 suggestions for the improvement of employer-employee relationships. That same month, Prillaman laid off ten employees after a severe drought forced suspension of dishwashing operations in Lenoir. Students were served on paper plates with plastic utensils and did most of the after-meal cleanup themselves. For the first time, foodworkers appealed to students for help.

An alliance between black students and foodworkers emerged in December 1968 when the BSM presented Chancellor J. Carlyle Sitterson with a list of 23 demands. Among the demands was a call for the University to "begin working immediately to alleviate the intolerable working conditions of the Black non-academic employees."

Generally dissatisfied with Sitterson's response to their demands, the BSM was especially provoked by the Chancellor's claim that non-academic workers' conditions were continually being improved, even though the administration refused to meet with foodworkers as a group or to address employee grievances. With BSM encouragement -- particularly from members Preston Dobbins, Reggie Hawkins, Jack McLean, and Eric Clay -- a core of seven foodworkers remained determined to have their grievances taken seriously by the administration. These seven -- Mary Smith, Elizabeth Brooks, Esther Jeffries, Elsie Davis, Sarah Parker, Verlie Moore, and Amy Lyons - had the support of other workers, but some workers were influenced by Prillaman's threats to fire them if they continued to meet with black students.

logo of the Black Student Movement Click on the above image to go directly to the documents and photographs for Episode 3. (Above: The logo of the Black Student Movement; From the BSM's website.)

On Sunday, 23 February 1969, Lenoir Hall foodworkers came to work and set up their counters as usual. When supervisor Ottis White opened the doors to the waiting students, workers walked out from behind their counters and sat down at the cafeteria tables. Despite repeated attempts by White to cajole Mary Smith into separating from the group and talking to him individually, Smith and the other striking workers remained seated. On Monday morning, nearly 100 dining hall employees refused to report to work. Thus began UNC's first serious labor dispute, a prolonged and complicated struggle that lasted nearly a month.

Although there were several attempts at negotiations throughout the strike, the University administration seemed to the strikers and their BSM supporters much more concerned with disruptions than with employee grievances. Because of the BSM involvement, administrators seemed to view the strike as a student uprising and refused to meet with workers because the workers wanted BSM students present at meetings. Food service employees were encouraged to return to their jobs and work things out in private conferences with their supervisors.

Frustrated by the lack of response from the Chancellor, on Monday, 3 March 1969, the BSM and the Southern Students Organizing Committee (SSOC) changed their tactics. Rather than just picketing and distributing leaflets outside Lenoir Hall, they entered, took their places in the serving lines, and slowed down service to other students, in part by sitting one to a table with glasses of water. Their attempts to force the administration to deal with the issue and to pressure other students into boycotting turned hostile on Tuesday when angry shouting and shoving, as well as a few scuffles and some minor injuries, occurred. Preston Dobbins, the BSM, and other students gathered at the north end of Lenoir and announced that people should either "get out or come with us." (2) Moving through the room, they overturned tables and chairs, and then returned to their headquarters in Manning Hall. The administration closed Lenoir Hall. In a meeting with Governor Robert W. Scott, Chancellor Sitterson and UNC System President William C. Friday argued to keep Lenoir Hall closed until Thursday lunch and downplayed the need to bring in the Highway Patrol to maintain order. As Sitterson prepared to announce his plan for reopening Lenoir, Governor Scott declared that four National Guard units were standing by in Durham, and that five squads of riot-trained Highway Patrol were being sent to Chapel Hill to ensure that Lenoir would open for breakfast on Thursday, 6 March.

Many UNC students, white and black, and faculty were mobilized by the table-turning incident and the Governor's response. The SSOC, the National Student Association Southern Area Conference, and representatives from Student Government attempted to act as mediators between the black students and foodworkers on one side and the University administration and North Carolina General Assembly on the other. Though the Faculty Council resolved to support the University administration, some faculty members signed petitions calling on Sitterson to recognize the validity of the BSM's demands and to increase wages and opportunities for promotion for campus non-academic workers. Faculty became even more vocal as the strike progressed, sensing that the University's academic freedom was threatened, particularly by Governor Scott's intervention.

BSM activities came to a head when, on 13 March, the Governor directed Chapel Hill police to arrest BSM members who refused to leave Manning Hall, which was then otherwise unused. Those arrested retained Charlotte attorneys Julius Chambers and Adam Stein to represent them.

After the table-turning incident, Chambers and Stein met with the foodworkers and encouraged them to unionize. The UNC Non-Academic Employees Union was formed and its requests were prioritized: a minimum wage of $1.80 per hour, the appointment of a black supervisor, and time-and-a-half for overtime work. The strike finally ended 21 March 1969, after Governor Scott met the workers' demands for a wage increase. This step affected not only foodworkers but other minimum-wage workers on the UNC campus and throughout the state, and, along with other job improvements, gave foodworkers some new dignity and respect on the job. It was a long and protracted battle, but grievances finally were heard.


On 19 May 1969, only a few weeks after the end of the strike, University management of the campus food service ceased when a contract with SAGA Food Services was signed. Although SAGA reportedly promised to provide employment to all current full-time foodworkers at the same pay and with the same benefits, employment for some with SAGA was short-lived. By the end of May, SAGA had laid off many temporary and part-time foodworkers. By fall 1969, foodworkers were still waiting for the University to fulfill some of the promises it had made during the spring strike. On 7 November 1969, about 250 of the 275 full- and part-time cafeteria workers, now members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union, went on strike against SAGA. At the beginning of the strike, the issues were much the same as before: pay, the hiring of black supervisors, and job reclassifications.

Negotiations soon stalled, however, over the issue of the rehiring of all of the striking workers, including eight workers allegedly fired for union activity. Though the University maintained its position that the strike was between the workers and SAGA, it offered to compensate workers not rehired and to find other positions for them within the University. The second foodworkers' strike ended 9 December 1969, after black students from across the state threatened to converge on the University in a massive show of support for the foodworkers. Characterized by significant student and faculty involvement in mediation, on the picket line, and in marches and sit-ins, the second foodworkers' strike was also a call for justice for the University's predominantly black non-academic work force. Though clashes between the University's food service workers and food service management continued beyond 1969, these labor disputes of the 1960s mobilized the foodworkers as a group and focused both black activists and black and white student sympathizers on the racial and labor issues at stake.

(1) This summary owes much to It Wasn't Slavery Time Anymore: Foodworkers' Strike at Chapel Hill, Spring 1969, a 1979 UNC master's thesis by J. Derek Williams.

(2) See Williams, above.

Documents and Photographs
[Note: Due to copyright issues, some documents and photographs have not been made available online. To research these documents further, please visit the Manuscripts Department's website for more information.]

78. 31 July 1967: "A Proposal for the Recruitment of Negro Students to the University of North Carolina" by Phillip Clay
Although the first black student had entered UNC-Chapel Hill in 1951, 15 years later in 1966 the total number of African American students enrolled at the University still numbered less than one percent of the total enrollment. In fall 1967, student Phillip Clay presented the Admissions Office with a proposal, "the result of more than two years of thought and concern," offering suggestions aimed at solving this disparity. The plan mentioned programs in other states that helped to attract bright, but uninformed, black high school seniors to apply to in-state universities. Phillip Clay graduated in 1968 with honors and went on to earn a Ph.D. in City Planning from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1975. Phillip Clay became the Chancellor of MIT in June 2001.
- From the Records of the Office of Chancellor - J. Carlyle Sitterson Series (#40022)

79. 7 December 1967: Letter from C. O. Cathey, dean of students, to Preston Dobbins
In fall 1967, during a regular meeting of the campus chapter of NAACP, Preston Dobbins introduced a motion to abolish the chapter entirely and to reconstitute it as the Black Student Movement. This action was motivated by the fact that he saw the NAACP chapter as "slow in terms of what people were talking or thinking." (Dobbins interview, Southern Oral History Program, #4007, E - 63) The new group had a more radical mandate, to push the University into the next phase of racial progress. In this letter, Dean of Students Cathey notified Dobbins that the BSM would be given tentative recognition as a student organization until it supplied a faculty advisor. "Meantime," the dean wrote, " ... I wish you, the officers and the membership great success in promoting your worthy purposes."
- From the Records of the Office of Chancellor - J. Carlyle Sitterson Series (#40022)

80. 3 April 1968: Copy of FBI report
"Bureau authority is requested to conduct investigation of BSM to determine its aims and purposes and whether it has a propensity for violence or otherwise constitutes a security risk."
- From Alexander Charns Papers (#4866)

Preston Dobbins Catalog 81: Photograph of Preston Dobbins (from the 1969 Yackety Yack.)

81. 1969: Photograph, Preston Dobbins
- From 1969 Yackety Yack

82. 11 December 1968: List of 23 demands of the Black Student Movement
This list of demands, presented to Chancellor J. Carlyle Sitterson by Preston Dobbins and Juan Cofield, expressed the disdain UNC's black students felt for what they called "token, symbolic" efforts at providing equal opportunities. "Stomping down," the BSM called for immediate improvements in recruitment of black students, curriculum changes, and improvements in communication between black students and the administration. They also sought reimbursement of $7,000 -- money that they felt was lost because the administration prevented the BSM from charging admission to Stokely Carmichael's speech in November 1968. Finally, the BSM demanded that Sitterson begin meeting with non-academic workers on campus in order to improve "intolerable working conditions."
- From the Records of the Office of Chancellor - J. Carlyle Sitterson Series (#40022)

83. 18 December 1968: Letter from Professor John Dixon to Preston Dobbins and the BSM
Dixon supported the BSM's cause, but did not agree with their tactics in calling for change. In this letter, Professor Dixon admonished the leaders of the BSM: "If you are seeking confrontation, disruption as good in itself, perhaps ultimate violence, you have chosen the perfect means. If you want to accomplish any of these purposes you are your own worst enemy. Basic principle #1: People can 'demand' only where they have power. ... 'Stomping Down' was what my children did when they made demands of me and all they got was clobbered."
- From the Records of the Office of Chancellor - J. Carlyle Sitterson Series (#40022)

84. 24 January 1969: Chancellor Sitterson's statement in response to the BSM's demands
Six weeks after the demands were presented, Sitterson responded with this 19-page statement. The Chancellor stated his intentions "to be responsive to the educational needs of ... all races, colors, and creeds." He also pointed out the progress that had been made in recent years to serve the "educationally disadvantaged youth of our state." With respect to the allegations about poor working conditions, Sitterson claimed that these were not supported by factual evidence and invited the BSM to present evidence to substantiate their claims.
- From the Records of the Office of Chancellor - J. Carlyle Sitterson Series (#40022)

85. February 1969: Letter from student Robert Cilley to Chancellor Sitterson
Cilley, a student in his sophomore year, conveyed his appreciation for Sitterson's response to the BSM "for having preserved Carolina's integrity." Reflecting on the quiet majority of students who shared in his appreciation, Cilley wrote, "Apathy may be an old and honorable institution at UNC, but this is no Columbia, for a handful of loudmouths to hold at bay with impunity."
- From the Records of the Office of Chancellor - J. Carlyle Sitterson Series (#40022)

86. Circa March 1969: Resolution of students from the Delegation to the National Student Association (NSA) Southern Area Conference
"Our support is founded in the belief that the black students, in combating racism in the university, are fighting one manifestation of the repressive nature of the institution. We as fellow students are in a parallel struggle to combat the arbitrariness in the curriculum, to abolish the tyranny of grades, to end authoritarianism in the classroom, to reject discrimination by sex in social rules, to end tokenism by asserting a decisive role for students in university policy-making and university operations."
- From the Records of the Office of Chancellor - J. Carlyle Sitterson Series (#40022)

87. 15 February 1969: Valentine's Day card from Mary Norris Preyer to Chancellor Sitterson
"I had been planning to write you a Valentine and tell you I thought your answers to the Black Student Demands were very good and fair. I think you are doing a great job and my parents said to tell you they thought so too."
- From the Records of the Office of Chancellor - J. Carlyle Sitterson Series (#40022)

Mary Smith speaking in Memorial Hall Catalog 88: Photograph of Mary Smith speaking at a public rally in Memorial Hall

88. March 1969: Photograph, Mary Smith speaking at a public rally in Memorial Hall
- From 1969 Yackety Yack

89. Circa March 1969: "Honor the Boycott"
The flyer urged students: "Do not eat at Lenoir, Chase, or at the Pine Room!!!" adding, "Isn't it time we students undergo a bit of inconvenience to support these workers who are fighting for the welfare and dignity of themselves and their families?" To circumvent the use of campus dining facilities, the BSM and the foodworkers set up a soul food cafe in Manning Hall.
- From the Records of the Office of President - William C. Friday Files (#40009)

90. 27 February 1969: "A Bill Supporting the UNC Cafeteria Workers"
"Student Legislature urges all members of the University community to support the cafeteria workers. ... By familiarizing themselves with the list of grievances ... and discussing the grievances with other members of the University community who may not be familiar with the particulars of the demands."
- From the Records of the Office of President - William C. Friday Files (#40009)

91. 4 March 1969: "Where is the administration?"
This bulletin presented the views of strikers and supporting student activists. "During lunch and dinner groups of students and faculty are slowing down the food lines, filling up the tables, and talking with the students who are helping to prolong the strike by eating and working there." These "stall-ins" led to scuffles in Lenoir and an incident on 4 March in which BSM members overturned tables and chairs. Lenoir remained closed from the afternoon of 4 March until the morning of 6 March, when members of the Highway Patrol were sent in to assure that the dining facility would reopen peacefully.
- From the Records of the Office of Chancellor - J. Carlyle Sitterson Series (#40022)

92. 13 March 1969: Memorandum of Claiborne S. Jones
Perhaps the most dramatic episode during the strike was the eviction of the BSM from Manning Hall and the arrest of six students who had been involved in the table turning incident of 4 March. Governor Robert Scott was adamant in using decisive action to quell campus disruption. He pressured Chapel Hill police to serve warrants on the perpetrators of this incident while urging Sitterson to evacuate the building. Frustrated with University inertia, on 13 March, the Governor called in troopers from the North Carolina State Highway Patrol to stand by to act that afternoon. This memorandum recorded morning telephone conversations between the Governor and the Chancellor's office regarding efforts to comply with the Governor's order to evacuate Manning Hall.
- From the Records of the Office of Chancellor - J. Carlyle Sitterson Series (#40022)

93. 13 March 1969: Official evacuation notice from Allen S. Waters
To comply with Governor Scott's orders, Sitterson instructed Allen S. Waters, director of operations and engineering, to clear Manning by 2:30 p.m. Waters issued this order to evacuate, under the pretext of needing the building emptied for the sake of renovation and maintenance.
- From the Records of the Office of Chancellor - J. Carlyle Sitterson Series (#40022)

94. 13 March 1969: Statement on the evacuation of Manning Hall
At 2:30 p.m., the Governor ordered members of the Highway Patrol to form a quadrangle around Manning and to evict the BSM. After much deliberation, the members of the Black Student Movement decided that their point had been made and exited without a struggle. Six students were arrested for the table turning incident. "At 2:45 pm today, Mr. Waters informed the Chancellor that Manning Hall is now vacant and locked," the notice stated. Confusion followed and emotions ran high as students and faculty flooded South Building to protest the troopers' presence.
- From the Records of the Office of President - William C. Friday Files (#40009)

13 March 1969: Photograph, N.C. State Patrolmen guard Manning Hall Catalog 95: 13 March 1969: Photograph, N.C. State Patrolmen guard Manning Hall

95. 13 March 1969: Photograph, N.C. State Patrolmen guard Manning Hall, following the BSM's eviction from the building
- From the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives

96. 13 March 1969: Letter from Robert James Scott to Chancellor Sitterson
Scott, a graduate student, wrote to the Chancellor to show his dissatisfaction with the Chancellor's actions. He outlined what many critics noted about inactivity on the part of the administration: "For about two weeks I wondered why you did not say anything about the food service workers' strike so that I could listen to you ... you failed to take any action as state troopers today occupied Manning Hall needlessly." Many supporters of Sitterson pointed to the fact that he was at the mercy of decisions made outside his control. Scott advised Sitterson to suspend Food Services Director George Prillaman. On 18 March, Prillaman was reassigned to the Accounting Department by Chancellor Sitterson.
- From the Records of the Office of Chancellor - J. Carlyle Sitterson Series (#40022)

97. March 1969: Statement of the faculty and graduate students of the School of Business Administration and Department of Economics
The statement was signed by more than 25 professors, instructors, and graduate students: "We wish to express to you the depth of our conviction that the presence of the police on our campus in the absence of a clear and present danger is a mockery of the academic atmosphere and an affront to the integrity of our University."
- From the Records of the Office of Chancellor - J. Carlyle Sitterson Series (#40022)

98. 29 April 1969: Letter from Kenneth L. Pennegar to Chancellor J. Carlyle Sitterson
The letter indicated that no further administrative action would be taken against Dobbins and the rest of those arrested for overturning tables, stating that punishment resulting from the criminal trial was punishment enough. The students were given fines and suspended sentences in the criminal cases, under the condition that they refrain from further disruptive activity.
- From the Records of the Office of President - William C. Friday Files (#40009)

Circa April 1969: Photograph, BSM members collecting money to pay fines Catalog 99: Photograph, BSM members collecting money to pay fines

99. Circa April 1969: Photograph, BSM members collecting money to pay fines levied against those arrested for turning over tables in Lenoir
- From 1970 Yackety Yack

100. Circa March 1969: Request for financial support from members of the faculty
Faculty members mobilized to raise funds for the families of striking workers. This flyer noted, "Goodwill will find a solution quickly -- in the meantime, help is needed." They raised over $13,000 during spring 1969.
- From the Records of the Office of Chancellor - J. Carlyle Sitterson Series (#40022)

101. 10 March 1969: Telegram from Attorney Julius Chambers to President William C. Friday
This telegram notified UNC administrators that the Law Office of Chambers, Stein, Ferguson and Lanning would be representing the striking workers, who had by this time organized into the UNC-Chapel Hill Non-Academic Employees Union. Julius Chambers graduated from the University of North Carolina School of Law in 1962, first in his class of 100. He also served as the first African American editor-in-chief of the school's Law Review.
- From the Records of the Office of President - William C. Friday Files (#40009)

102. 20 March 1969: President William C. Friday to Governor Robert Scott
In late March, negotiations between the foodworkers and the UNC administration and the State of North Carolina began to turn towards a quick solution. Most significant in these deliberations was the decision by Governor Scott to raise the minimum wage for state employees to $1.80 per hour. Here President Friday reported to Governor Scott that an additional $185,000 was required to ensure that every employee in the Consolidated University would be paid the new minimum.
- From the Records of the Office of President - William C. Friday Files (#40009)

103. 30 July 1969: Letter from Claiborne S. Jones and J. C. Eagles to President Friday
Jones and Eagles reported that, following completion of a study on back pay that striking foodworkers alleged was due them, "The University is now preparing checks in payment of the amounts due the persons involved."
- From the Records of the Office of President - William C. Friday Files (#40009)

Statement of the UNC Non - Academic Employees Union Catalog 104: Statement of the UNC Non - Academic Employees Union

104. 10 November 1969: Statement of the UNC Non-Academic Employees Union
In May, the University announced that it would contract with SAGA Food Services to provide dining services on campus. The transition from University control to SAGA private contract did not go as smoothly as all had hoped. Employees complained that SAGA's policies were often just as bad as policies they endured before the spring strike. In the fall, workers again walked out with a similar set of grievances.
- From the Records of the Office of Chancellor - J. Carlyle Sitterson Series (#40022)

105. December 1969: Strike agreement
The second strike came to a close in December 1969. Again, students played an important role in the settlement. Ten days into the second strike, black students from across the state announced plans to convene on Chapel Hill for a rally they called "Black Monday." When SAGA management learned of the students' plans, they decided to come to the negotiation table and end the strike.
- From the Records of the Office of Chancellor - J. Carlyle Sitterson Series (#40022)

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