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UNC Foodworkers’ Strikes of 1969

UNC Foodworkers’ Strikes of 1969

Author: Sydney Lopez

In 1969, on University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s campus, one of the largest instances of collective action occurred over the course of the year. Hundreds of foodworkers, in collaboration with the Black Student Movement, protested the oppressive labor policies of UNC’s dining halls through a strike lasting nearly sixty days in total. Through exploration of the Southern Oral History Program’s database and the Wilson Library archives, the SOHP summer interns created a digital exhibit and audio documentary to construct a narrative of this event through the voices and letters of those that lived and sustained it.

There are events that stand out as hallmarks of University history: its founding, Union troops occupying campus in the Civil War, every national basketball title. And there are events that influence the course of campus and even state history, but get overshadowed or lost in our collective memory. The Lenoir Foodworkers’ Strikes of 1969 is one of those stories.

Produced and narrated by UNC Chapel Hill undergraduates Liv Linn and Sydney Lopez, and with music from Harmonyx, the a capella group affiliated with UNC’s Black Student Movement, “The Ladies in the Pine Room” tells the story of the strikes through the voices of the people who lived them: BSM members Preston Dobbins and Ashley Davis, and foodworkers Elizabeth Brooks and Mary Smith. The documentary and digital exhibit were created to complement each other. While the exhibit provides the physical record of these events, the documentary populates them, offering the strikes voice and heart.

In 1969, the strikers were asking questions that ring strikingly relevant on campus today. What is the meaning of activism? How do we as a University community confront or fail to confront racism on campus? And which stories get preserved in our collective memory? So listen up, UNC: it’s time we (re)learned our history.

The Audio Documentary

Narrated by undergraduates at UNC Chapel Hill, Liv Linn and Sydney Lopez, the audio documentary tells the story of the foodworkers’ strikes through the voices of the strikes and students whom sustained it. Rather than listing dates and documents associated with the strike, the documentary attempts to unearth and humanize the strikes to enhance the understanding of the complex nature of activism–and more broadly, history.

Listen to the audio documentary here.


The Digital Exhibit

Incorporating letters, videos, and pictures from Wilson Library archives and clips from the Southern Oral History Database, this interactive map and timeline constructs an accessible medium to visualize the strikes’ multifaceted narrative. Offering a deeper look at the other organizations and groups involved in the strikes, the exhibit attempts to illustrate how far reaching the strike’s impact was on campus and in the state. As a note on the best way to delve into the exhibit, the left side includes narrative text, documents, and archive clips. By scrolling completely past the narrative text, readers can take advantage of the archival documents and clips provided. The right side will include any variation of interactive maps, archive documents, and videos.

Check out the exhibit here.