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Remembering Cliff Kuhn, 1952 – 2015

This piece was written by SOHP Founding Director Jacquelyn Dowd Hall.

On November 8th, an SOHP stalwart and dear friend Cliff Kuhn died of a heart attack in Atlanta, GA. Cliff was an associate professor of history at Georgia State University, where he has inspired a love of history in students since 1989. He was 63 years old.

Remembering Cliff Kuhn

This piece was written by SOHP Founding Director Jacquelyn Dowd Hall.

cliff kuhnOn November 8th, an SOHP stalwart and dear friend Cliff Kuhn died of a heart attack in Atlanta, GA. Cliff was an associate professor of history at Georgia State University, where for more than two decades he has inspired a love of history in students. He was 63 years old.

I’ve known him since shortly after he graduated from Yale in 1974. He was one of a number of young people fascinated by the South who came through town and slept on our couch in the early 1970s. In a sense he never left—well, he left our couch, but not the South. He got a Ph.D. in history at UNC Chapel Hill and was part of the team that conducted the interviews and wrote the initial working papers that led to the publication of Like a Family: the Making of a Cotton Mill World in 1987.

He was a font of boundless energy, enthusiasm, and generosity. He loved to talk. At the same time, the tributes pouring out of Atlanta rightly say that the city “has lost it greatest listener.

Passionate about local history, Cliff recorded hundreds of interviews with the people of Atlanta and frequently appeared on independent radio and the local NPR affiliate, WABE. He worked tirelessly to preserve the memory of Atlanta’s 1906 race riot and led walking tours of Atlanta that educated perhaps thousands of people about that event as well as about the city’s labor history. In 1990 he published Living Atlanta: An Oral History of the City, 1914-1948 (UGA), co-authored with Harlon E. Joye and E. Bernard West. He was a recipient of the Georgia Governor’s Award in the Humanities, the Turner Downtown Community Leadership Award, and the Martin Luther King Torch of Peach Award, among many other honors.

In 2001, he published Contesting the New South Order: The 1914-1915 Strike at Atlanta’s Fulton Mills (UNC), which David Carlton (Vanderbilt) described as an exploration of “not only the history of southern industrial labor, but also the tangled interplay of race, class, and ethnicity, in the Progressive-era urban South.” At the time of his death, Cliff was working on a book about the sociologist Arthur Raper and had published an eloquent article based on that work in Southern Cultures.

In 2013, Cliff helped to bring the Oral History Association (OHA) to Georgia State University and became its first executive director. Cliff was an irreplaceable advocate for oral history and public history in the classroom, the academy, and the community. The OHA is struggling with how to go on without him.

His wife, Kathie Klein, and their sons Gabe and Josh will be in our hearts. A memorial service will be held next month in Atlanta.


Spring 2016 Internship Applications Now Open!

We’re now accepting applications for our Spring 2016 Undergraduate Internship! For more information, visit our page on the internship here.

Collection Spotlight

In 2012 and 2013 SOHP conducted a project on early African American credit unions in North Carolina, after the Self-Help Credit Union in Durham suggested the idea and pointed out the value of these credit unions in their communities. Now, we’re featuring this collection as a part of our Rural South series. Learn more and listen to clips here, and stay tuned for the full interviews!

Photo: Rev. Joseph L. Battle during his SOHP interview with Rob Shapard and Joey Fink

Join us at the 2015 NC Women’s Summit

SOHP is excited once more to co-host the annual North Carolina Women’s Summit, alongside Women AdvaNCe, Scholars for North Carolina’s Future, and the Women’s Center at Wake Forest University.

The summit, held on Thursday, September 24th from 9:00AM – 4:30PM, will feature two special guest speakers Neera Tanden and Melissa Harris-Perry.  Tanden is President of the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC; and Harris-Perry is an MSNBC news show host, professor, and Director of the Pro Humanitate Institute.

To purchase your ticket and learn more about the event, visit the website here. We hope to see you there!

All for One, and One for All: The Role of Athletics in School Desegregation

This blog post was written by SOHP Mining the Archives intern Liz Kennedy.

This semester, my fellow intern Samantha and I mined the SOHP archive for clips on school desegregation in the South, looking specifically in North Carolina. We listened to the different perspectives from all sides of the school integration debate: teachers, students, staff, parents, and administrators. We also heard from different sides down the racial line: a Black student and a White principal probably had two very different perspectives on school desegregation, and we wanted to explore both sides of that story. That’s one of the cool things about oral history— it really allows us to explore the side of history not talked about in our textbooks. It’s the most primary of all historical sources, because it allows us to hear people’s stories from their own perspective. It gives a voice to the voiceless, and a platform to the preferably unheard.

Luckily for us, hundreds of oral histories have been captured from the time of school desegregation. The desegregation of American public schools started in 1954, after the Supreme Court Case Brown v. Board of Education ruled separate-but-equal schools unconstitutional. Despite this, it would take over a decade for most Southern schools to finally integrate; Durham public schools weren’t fully integrated until 1963, with Chapel Hill following suit in 1969.

When we talk about schools integrating, we tend to view our not-so-distant past through a more positive light. We think of things like the backlash surrounding Little Rock 9 as exceptions to an otherwise smooth transition.  But the truth is, school desegregation was a long, difficult process that lasted over a decade, with lots of opposition from segregationists, some of which became violent. As we continued listening to interviews, a pattern eventually emerged from the stories of the interviewees: schools may have desegregated, but very few actually integrated.

Even though there was a lot of hostility during school desegregation, what we found was that there was a lot more commonality than we thought.  The one thing that seemed to unite Black and White, if only for a couple of hours, was athletics. We kept hearing, over and over again, that school athletics broke color barriers on the field. Those students had to cooperate as teammates. A lack of team unity meant certain defeat, and no athlete likes to lose. They had to choose the team over their own biases, and the best part was, it showed off the field too.

In a 2000 interview with Charles Adams, one of the several coaches that led student athletes in Cary, North Carolina during this tumultuous time, “the schools could not have integrated without athletics.” The camaraderie that students built up on the field found itself translating to the classrooms and halls of their schools. Players became teammates, and teammates became friends. It started to influence their fans, too, some of which had protested the very unity that now existed on the field.

In the words of Adams, “I think you can look back and really credit athletics as being the single most success story in integration, not just in North Carolina but in the South, in the country.” As we celebrate over 50 years of school integration, it is important to acknowledge the importance of school athletics in breaking color barriers, and the connecting force athletics provide for students, even today. 

Liz Kennedy
SOHP Mining the Archives Intern
Class of 2015

#UNCCalls4HurstonHall: UNC and White Supremacy

This blog was written by SOHP undergraduate communications intern Bryan Smith.

In this article, I reference several individuals whose oral histories can be found in the SOHP’s archives. By clicking the hyperlinks in this post, a new SoundCloud window will open up, where you can play a portion of those interviews.


When I began writing this post, it had been almost 2 weeks since anyone had used the #UNCCalls4HurstonHall tag on Twitter. At the time I feared this represented a conclusion to the issue: the Department of Geography would remain housed in “Saunders” Hall, and the call for Hurston Hall would go unanswered. For the opponents of renaming the building, and for those who chose to ignore the issue, this would have been a victory. The argument that Saunders, chief organizer in the Ku Klux Klan or not (he certainly was), died in the late 19th century and was simply “a man of his time,” thus safely buffering UNC’s present and recent past from the taint of white supremacy, would have won out. In the subsequent weeks and months however, the rallies by the Unsung Founders Memorial and Silent Sam and the protests outside the building itself proved not to be solitary, transient blips on the radar indicative of life on UNC’s campus. Despite the controversy and unpopularity of revealing and labeling racism in the acts, people, and settings in which it persists, the movement has continued. This semester’s entire push is, in fact, already the product of decades of activism that is part of the ongoing fight to change UNC’s landscape to match the needs and spirit of its community. As an intern with the SOHP, I’ve had the opportunity to do my own part by researching some of the white supremacist events tied to UNC’s own history. In doing so, I’ve attempted to explore the patterns of white supremacy and response by the Black community.


Primarily, I’ve searched our archives to research two events in this web of white supremacy. The first of these was the invitation given to David Duke to speak at UNC in 1975. Duke, a Grand Dragon in the KKK at the time, was to give a speech in Memorial Hall, and was paid through student fees to do so. Insulted by this use of student fees, UNC’s Black Student Movement protested, as former member Paula Newsome recalls, through heckling until he was eventually shouted down from the stage. Cathy Stuart, a former co-president of the Campus Y, also remembers the event, but felt conflicted about the BSM’s response. In the context of the First Amendment and the overturning of the Speaker Ban Law less than a decade before, she says: “[…] don’t we defend the right for someone to speak–whatever it is–even if we don’t like it.”


Compare this to a second event that took place on UNC’s campus five years earlier in 1970. On November 21st of that year, a white supremacist motorcycle gang called the Stormtroopers killed a local Black student (though not a UNC student) named James Cates. On the night of the murder, UNC was hosting an all-night, integrated dance in the Student Union. Clashes between Black youths and the Stormtroopers had been occurring all night, but culminated fatally when Stormtroopers stabbed Cates after he pulled a straight razor during one of the fistfights. Initially, police prevented anyone from moving Cates to the hospital, resulting in his death in the back of a police cruiser at 3:30 that morning. Black youths in the Chapel Hill area retaliated by firebombing parts of the Northside community (the Institute of Pharmacy and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools Administration building). The Stormtroopers were brought to court, but the charges were ultimately dropped. Raney Norwood, a friend of Cates, recalls both the events leading up to Cates death and the subsequent firebombing of Northside and trial. Norwood is critical of the firebombing, while also acknowledging that peaceful protest was “not enough” in the face of injustice. Norwood also remembers James Cates death as the first time the Black community came together in Chapel Hill. The University’s response to James Cates’ murder is characterized by inaction. This is a fact remembered by Ashley Davis, a participant in the 1969 Food Worker Strike, as an example of the University’s leniency on violence committed or planned by white community members, especially students.


In researching these two events over the past semester, I’ve come to a couple of realizations. First, that the reactions to white supremacist actions associated with the University are almost always criticized or qualified in some capacity. That is, the legitimacy of Black community response always seems to be questioned. I’ve also discovered that white supremacist actions are poorly documented. They are talked about relatively infrequently, for example, in the life histories recorded in the SOHP’s archives. Outside of the archives, sources of information are limited to Daily Tar Heel articles, blog posts by authors that are impossible to contact, and fliers for memorializing events that are otherwise unrecorded. Together, I think that the struggles for legitimacy and memory form not only a stumbling block for scholarly research, but also for continued activism.


Now, as I reflect on Hurston Hall, this stumbling block is at the forefront of my thoughts. Since I’ve began working at the SOHP, I’ve listened to the oral histories numerous rebels, protestors, academics, and everyday people who have challenged my notions of what it means to be an activist and of my own activism. As I learned more and more, I would become frustrated; my internship (in addition to my classes and work) often felt like a time commitment that hindered my ability to be active myself. I’ve certainly gained a greater appreciation and respect for the activists who do manage to balance their personal, academic, and political lives, but I’m also now aware of the opportunities that the SOHP really afforded me. Encountering the past through the voices of those who lived it raised in me many of the questions I received when I’d report my findings to friends and family: “Was there really so much violence at UNC? How could that have happened? Why didn’t I know?” On a personal level, the SOHP showed me how remembering not only made me want to be a better activist, but be active, period. The SOHP has also shown me that the more people forget the less legitimate events feel. These are lessons I wish I’d learned earlier, and ones I hope to pass on. UNC continues to call for Hurston Hall; if we call for memory too, the number of active, passionate, and diverse students will swell until the University must heed it.

Bryan Smith

SOHP Communications Intern

Class of 2015

Spring 2015 Intern Performance

Don’t miss our Spring 2015 undergraduate interns‘ oral history performance this Wednesday, April 29th at 1:00PM. Samantha, Liz, Holly, and Bryan will present the culmination of their semester’s work on the history of feminist activism at UNC. All are welcome to join us! For more information, visit the event page here.

50 Years of Students Standing Up For Academic Integrity

Written by Charlotte Fryar, BA American Studies ’13, PhD Student American Studies, UNC-Chapel Hill.

Until the Board of Governors’ work group met last week to recommend the closing of three UNC-system centers, it had been over fifty years since there was such a blatant assault on the University’s right to scholarly initiative and its students’ and faculties’ right to free speech. Until last week, fifty years ago had seemed like a time far behind us.

In the summer of 1963, only weeks after the violent civil rights protests in Raleigh and Chapel Hill had ended, a small faction within the North Carolina General Assembly narrowly passed the Act to Regulate Visiting Speakers. The law forbade the use of any publicly funded college or university by a speaker who was a known communist, had advocated the overthrow of the United States or North Carolina Constitutions, or had previously pled the Fifth Amendment. It was meant to be a punitive action against the students at UNC and other local universities who had brought the civil rights movement into the hotel lobbies and offices of state legislators.

The Speaker Ban, as it came to be known, was immediately controversial for a number of reasons, the right to free speech protected under the First Amendment foremost among them. Faculty rallied in support of their University, and the administration, led by Bill Friday, began working to dismantle the law from within the legislature. But it was not until a diverse group of students from across the political spectrum came together to challenge the law that the Speaker Ban began to fall apart. Students invited two speakers that fell under the parameters of the law to speak, filing a lawsuit against the University following the speakers’ forced removal from campus. North Carolina courts declared the law unconstitutional five years later.

In the spring of 2013, I interviewed Hugh Stevens, former editor of the Daily Tar Heel and one of the student activists who worked to overturn the Speaker Ban. He spoke passionately and sincerely about the University’s reputation as a liberal bastion and the legacy of the Speaker Ban. “You can never be certain of what you have—don’t take anything for granted,” he told me, “You’ve got to be vigilant about attacks on the University, whatever form they take. That’s a lesson worth knowing, even if you learn it in an unpleasant situation.”

An unpleasant situation is where we find ourselves. The Board of Governors’ work group recommendation to close the Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity is not surprising, especially considering the legacy and origins of the Speaker Ban law. The decision to recommend closing the Center was determined by its ‘political advocacy,’ an ironic and deeply troubling rationalization. Poverty is political, as is their recommendation.

To ensure free speech on the University’s campus, students did something unimaginable: they sued the University. Today we are faced with the same challenge to our right to free speech, and we need to respond with the strength and conviction that students and faculty did fifty years ago. Draw on the lessons of our past to insure that the University of North Carolina is the place where academic excellence is able to work freely for the benefit of all people of this state.


Charlotte Fryar was one of the Southern Oral History Program’s undergraduate interns who, in Spring 2013, completed an oral history project and live performance on the Speaker Ban Law. Every year the SOHP teaches undergraduates at UNC how to research history from the points of view of those who lived it, in this case the students, faculty, administrators and journalists who helped UNC-CH students maintain their right to free speech fifty years ago. SOHP is proud of the students who teach us everyday about the value of academic integrity, and here we present a video of their live performance, and a research guide they created to help others learn about the issue.


The Database is Always Open

This post was written by Fall 2014 SOHP undergraduate intern Megan Cross.

IMG_1318This semester, I interned with the SOHP with a focus on mining the archives. I’ve become intimately familiar with the database, but I know that there’s still so much that I haven’t seen. It’s truly limitless, and personally I’ve listened to interviews from a broad expanse of time – from suffragist activities in 1910 to reproductive justice and Moral Monday protests in 2013. I find myself referencing the stories of interviewees in daily conversation, and typically people seem to appreciate them as much as I do. I have a few personal favorites – one of which is the story of a woman who was dating a draft dodger during the Vietnam War. He asked her to chop off his finger with a machete, and because she was in love with him, she did it. I’ll also never forget the story of a girl growing up as an immigrant in 1950s Brooklyn. She was Jewish and spoke Yiddish with her family, but in her neighborhood people spoke Italian, Russian, Spanish, and a multitude of other languages. She grew up fluent in four or five languages because of the diversity she was surrounded with. When she would visit her friend’s for play-dates, she would speak the language of their family. As an undergrad struggling with just one language, it’s stories like these that amaze me.

However, I’ve really enjoyed discovering the oral histories that address issues that are still relevant today. We completed a project focused on bringing historical voices to the AdvaNCe Women’s Summit, and a podcast about feminism. We created an educational podcast about Women’s Suffrage, which was addressed in a matter of two pages in my high school AP US History textbook. We spent a day on it in class, maybe two – but it’s so important to recognize the struggle those women overcame. I also took AP European History in high school, and we focused on the expansion of suffrage in England for a few days. The riots, protests, and violence associated with expanding the male vote was covered thoroughly, but why is it that I can’t remember what was said about women?

I believe that history is important. I think that everyone should understand the past and our place in it, and oral history is a new and more intimate way to do so. You listen to someone tell you their life story, and you identify with them, gaining a new understanding about history in the process. I think that there’s so much to learn, and if you’re interested in learning more…the database is always open.