‘Bill Friday: In His Own Words’

For more than a half-century, William C. “Bill” Friday was the face of higher education in North Carolina.

But a year after his death, it is his voice that will take center stage in the exhibit “Bill Friday: In His Own Words,” on display in the Melba Remig Saltarelli Exhibit Room of the Wilson Special Collections Library through Dec. 31.

Throughout his life, Friday’s influence was deep and far-reaching, but the power of his words – about many of the causes he believed in – will likely endure as well, says Biff Hollingsworth, the programming archivist with the Southern Historical Collection who spearheaded the project.

“The exhibit came together around the question of ‘How could we ever tell the story of Bill Friday?’” Hollingsworth says. “Certainly, part of that story was his decades-long career as UNC president, but beyond that, how could we cover the sweep of his life outside of a few exhibit cases.”

They found the answer within the vaults of the Southern Oral History Program, which has some 40 recordings of interviews with Friday about his life and career.

As president of the UNC system for three decades, Friday piloted higher education in North Carolina through a period of turbulent growth and change, including the expansion of the university system from three campuses to 16.

He was also a central figure in many statewide and national issues.

In North Carolina, Friday was a force behind initiatives for economic development, literacy and access to health care. At the national level, he served on many influential boards, including the President’s Task Force on Education, and was an advocate for access to education, federal student aid and the reform of big-time college sports.

The quotations featured in the exhibit were taken from oral history interviews, Friday’s personal papers and University records, which are a part of the special collections at Carolina.

There are several different components to the exhibit.

An online exhibit at billfriday.web.unc.edu delves further into Friday’s legacy and features audio clips of Friday speaking on topics that range from his family, to the university system, to college athletics. Finally, posters placed around the Carolina campus depict different aspects of Friday’s lifetime of service to higher education.

The constellation of information pays tribute to Friday, who died Oct. 12, 2012, at the age of 92. During his 30-year tenure as UNC president, Friday earned a national reputation for his unwavering support of academic freedom, fairness and integrity. For four decades, he was a familiar television presence as host of the UNC-TV interview show “North Carolina People with William Friday.”

Among the items that visitors to Wilson Library can see are:

  • Correspondence with Vice President George H. W. Bush relating to Friday’s service on the Commission on National Challenges in Higher Education;
  • Video clips from North Carolina People; and
  • A family scrapbook with childhood photographs of Friday.

The Southern Historical Collection in Wilson Library is the sponsor of the exhibit, which also features material from the North Carolina Collection and University Archives & Records Management Services.

Read more in the University Gazette.

Published November 6, 2013.