Carolina Black Caucus celebrates 40th anniversary

Current and past members of the Carolina Black Caucus (aka Black Faculty and Staff Caucus), invited guests and friends gathered Friday evening at the Friday Center to celebrate 40 years of advocacy and fellowship. A recurring theme of the evening was how far African Americans have come in the past four decades – and how far they still have to go.

“The sad part is that the work is not finished. There are challenges afoot that will turn back the clock in ways that will put us back to where we don’t want to be ever again,” said Charles Daye, Henry Brandis Professor of Law and Deputy Director of the Center for Civil Rights at the School of Law. Daye co-founded the caucus in 1974 with Vice Chancellor Harold G. Wallace.

Carolina Black Caucus chair Debby Stroman, senior advisor at the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, focused on challenges at the university level. She also expressed hope for the future and in UNC’s current leadership, recognizing the presence that evening of UNC System President Tom Ross, Chancellor Carol L. Folt, Provost James W. Dean Jr., Lowry Caudill, chair of the Board of Trustees, and Bruce Cairns, incoming Faculty Council chair.

“We have leaders with vision and heart. We are not alone in this struggle,” Stroman told the audience.

Folt thanked Stroman for being a great leader and paid homage to fellow speakers Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson (UNC ‘74/’79), the first black woman to serve on the N.C. Supreme Court, and Bennett College President Rosalyn Fuse-Hall (UNC ’80). She also acknowledged Hortense McClinton, the first black faculty member at UNC, hired in 1966, seated at a front table. “It’s great to see such women power in this room,” she said.

Folt put the Caucus into historical context by reminding the audience what else was happening in 1974: President Nixon’s impeachment, IRA bombings and inflation. “The Carolina Black Caucus has played a historic role in UNC’s progress toward inclusivity and diversity in its history, but I think it’s important to say here on its 40th birthday that this role remains as important today as it’s always been,” Folt said. “And we still have work to do, but we have incredible and powerful hands and hearts to do it.”

The speakers expressed their gratitude to the African American leaders who came before them. Timmons-Goodson recalled when her husband, Ernest Goodson, was accepted to another dental school before hearing from Carolina. Time was running out for him to decide, so he asked Dean Hayden B.  Renwick what he should do. “March yourself over to that dental school and show them that piece of paper and ask them what they’re going to do,” Renwick advised the student. Goodson did – and in just a couple of days, the UNC School of Dentistry accepted him.

Daye said it was a stirring talk by Floyd McKissick he heard when he was in the eighth grade that determined his career. When his mother told him McKissick was a lawyer, he told her, “I want to be a lawyer.”

Fuse-Hall, who also served as associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, expressed her gratitude for the support of the Caucus in her career. “This was the place to refresh and rejuvenate, that you were not crazy and that people with your similar experiences felt a similar reaction to how rooms got reserved or how hires got made or how tenure was granted, but mostly not granted,” she said.

In conclusion, Fuse-Hall asked for a toast to the Caucus and its continued success. “Help it to grow and to move Carolina to a better place that she can be, because she can be a lot better than she is today,” she said. “She’s good, but she can be better and certainly more diverse.”

By Susan Hudson, UNC News Services

Published May 19, 2014.