UNCG Campus Weekly

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Alumni of the 60’s remember trying years

Photo of Sina McGimpsey Reid ‘65 speaking at reunionJoAnne Smart Drane, one of UNCG’s first two African-American students, noted that between the founding in 1891 and the year she enrolled, 1956, “there were no students of color on the campus.”

Opening the April 10 UNCG Reunion forum “Looking Back, Moving Forward,” she acknowledged the events of the past months: at Ferguson, North Charleston and New York City. She acknowledged the Class of 1965 as it marked its 50th year, remarking on its activism and involvement in Civil Rights in the 60s. “I know many in your class were leaders.”

And she noted the University Libraries’ Institutional Memory Project, in which many African-American students from the late 50’s and the 60’s have shared their memories and perspectives in recorded interviews, for current and future researchers.

“History is not dead – We are not dead,” said Linda Louise Scales Dark, class of ‘68. She asked if African American studies classes or history classes may want to invite some of the day’s speakers to speak with classes or be on a panel.

Barbara Wesley – now Dr. Barbara Wesley Baker – was inspired by Music professor Richard Cox to become a choir director. She is now world famous. “We are all old enough now to speak up,” she said.

Many of the UNCG students in the 60’s did speak up – and they put their futures on the line. For example, Sina McGimpsey Reid ‘65 (in visual) was one of the handful of leaders of the successful student-led effort to fully integrate Tate Street businesses in 1963.

Reid’s name was one of six on a Spring 1963 flyer promoting the boycott and picketing – and calling for fellow students to take part. The signs the students carried in front of the Cinema Theatre, Apple House Restaurant and Town & Campus Restaurant bore such messages as “All WC Students Are Equal” and “Liberty and Justice For All” according to the Daily News.

Reid’s husband (with whom, she told the Reunion, she was about to celebrate 50 years of marriage) was in a protest that spring outside a cafeteria in downtown Greensboro, was arrested, and was taken to a makeshift jail facility (apparently at the old prison farm). A white friend drove her there to visit her husband, she recalls. Many hundreds of Greensboro protesters were arrested in downtown protests. There were no arrests on Tate Street. The student protesters on Tate Street were spat on and recall having eggs thrown at them.

In looking back, Reid questions why the university leadership did not do more to help in integrating Tate Street, at the time. “Why didn’t Chancellor Singletary do something different than what he did?”

At the session, some current students ask questions. When a student asked what the alumni would do differently if they could go back and relive their student years, Baker replied: “I would ask ‘Why?’ more. I’d challenge more.”

Drane said, “I’d be more willing to get out of my own comfort zone – to engage people different from myself.”

Reid said she would have strived more academically. She might have gone on to get a doctorate, she said.

Bunnie McIntosh, a white alumna, said, “I’d be more aware politically – I regret that.”

Period documents and today’s consensus is that a majority of the faculty and the student body supported the boycott.

The UNCG students who participated by boycotting or by picketing or through the Student Government, both African American and white, were successful in ensuring all Tate Street businesses would open their doors to everyone. (Read more here.)

At the end of the Reunion forum, everyone sang the Black National Anthem, ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Alice Garrett Brown ‘65 noted the importance music has played in the Civil Rights Movement. A UNCG Civil Rights activist, Gwen Jones Magee had died in 2011. She had protested on Tate Street before the successful 1963 effort. Her posthumous exhibition of her quilts was presented last fall in the UNCG Gatewood Gallery. The exhibition’s title and theme was “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

The Alumni forum had begun with a few selections by UNCG’s Neo Black Society’s choir. The NBS president, Bria Hall, rose at the end to thank all those who had spoken that day.

“You all have taught me so much,” she said. “Thank you for being real about things.”

By Mike Harris
Photography by Martin Kane