March 2015
Billy Barnes used photography to document poverty in North Carolina in the 1960s. According to Barnes, these were home to people who worked in much larger residences on Duke Street. 
 Billy E. Barnes Photographic Collection #P0034, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives

Field Notes
Stories from the Southern Oral History Program

Director's Note

The SOHP Collection houses a 1974 interview with Fritz Hollings, South Carolina's former Governor, U.S. Senator, and a Democrat. He considered his views moderate, at least in comparison to his Republican colleague Strom Thurmond (Hollings still voted against the appointment of Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court and against the Family and Medical Leave Act). Yet, Hollings cared deeply about the poor and particularly about hunger. In the interview he described how he came to understand that being poor and hungry was not related to a "character deficiency," in his words. He said: "it makes me mad still that...they think that the hungry are just a bunch of dead beats... [Go see] nine children in an empty cold shack and you can't tell them about work or anything else, they are just listless, they are staring out into space. I mean you have got to see hunger and then you will know how outrageous it is to talk about the work effort to this segment of society." Hollings, conservative as he was, gave himself the freedom and seized the responsibility to look this problem of hunger and poverty in the face, heard stories from hungry and poor families, and exposed the lie behind his opponents' "character deficiency" reasoning.

 

The stories in SOHP's collection-those from the powerful segments of society and those from the powerless-demonstrate the need for free inquiry into the nation's intractable problems. Hollings didn't specifically address the University's culture of free inquiry in his interview, but without the freedom to challenge the status quo, he could not have conducted his anti-poverty campaign. His influence gave him that freedom, while at the University, we provide that freedom to those who do not have his kind of influence. When the UNC Board of Governors closed the UNC-CH Law School's Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity, many at UNC and elsewhere began to question whether we could still exercise that freedom.

 

Hollings's story demonstrated that free inquiry isn't a right, nor is it a privilege-it's a responsibility. Academic freedom means that at the University, we can investigate problems that no one else is willing to look at, and look at them from all sides, using all available evidence, in unflinching terms. Academic freedom does not allow us the liberty to do and say whatever we want. Instead, it binds the University community-and all who work within it and for it-to a symbolic contract that emphasizes responsibility, not just liberty. We are responsible for achieving sound conclusions based on evidence that is derived from tested and proven research methods. We are then responsible for presenting those findings in service to others; if we fear repercussions from those who might find those conclusions offensive or inconvenient, we cannot fulfill our responsibility. When we join this community as teachers, staff, researchers, students, donors, and administrators, we all figuratively sign that contract. SOHP's work is not possible without this contract that defines our responsibility.

From academic freedom flows all the benefits that North Carolina enjoys from its universities; we serve in so many ways-through education, healthcare, economic development, artistic endeavors-because we exercise this responsibility to address our citizens' needs. Our students and alumni at UNC have a long history of taking this responsibility seriously; SOHP's undergraduate interns documented one significant threat to academic freedom that occurred fifty years ago, the legendary Speaker Ban Law. They interviewed nine individuals who had been involved in the protests between 1965 and 1968, now memorialized on a plaque on McCorkle Place and in a performance by SOHP students. Just last month, students who protested the Board of Governors' decision to close the Poverty Center wore duct tape over their mouths, with the words "Speaker Ban 2015"  printed on them. 


 
Over and over in his interview, Senator Fritz Hollings referred to the role that colleges played in solving the problem of poverty and hunger. He talked about schooling that prepared people to work, degrees in nutrition, and Agricultural Extension workers directly helping families solve their own hunger challenges. If universities cannot exercise the responsibility of academic freedom, two things happen: the public's needs go unmet, and legacies like Fritz Hollings's personal war on hunger are forgotten. 

  

--Malinda Maynor Lowery

 
SOHP 2011 Interview with Gene Nichol 
 In 2011 the SOHP undertook the Bill Friday Legacy project, in which we interviewed 25 North Carolinians who were carrying on Friday's work of fighting poverty in the state.  UNC Ph.D. candidate Rob Shapard interviewed Gene Nichol, then head of the Center on Work, Poverty and Opportunity.  Rob's note on the interview includes the following:  "He went on to describe his view that great public universities are the most important institutions in the U.S., and his concern that some universities are moving in directions that he finds troubling. Specifically, he pointed to a declining commitment on the part of some universities to ensuring access to students from non-wealthy families, and to engaging directly and deeply with problems in their states. He continues to argue for keeping these goals as priorities at UNC Chapel Hill and other leading public universities - pointing to former UNC president Frank Porter Graham as a key proponent of these goals going back to the early twentieth century."   For more from Nichol on the importance of universities and anti-poverty work,  listen to the hour-long interview.  


 

Vos and Womble Present on "The Year of the Podcast"
Katie Womble shows workflow for creating podcasts at SOHP

On March 11 and 12, SOHP Collections Coordinator Jaycie Vos and Field Scholar and SILS student Katie Womble attended the Society of North Carolina Archivists annual conference in Greenville, NC. Jennifer Coggins of UNC's University Archives joined Vos and Womble on a panel presentation, "Hearing and Seeing: Exploring University History through Podcasts and Primary Source Documents." They presented on the SOHP's Year of the Podcast, in which SOHP is experimenting with podcasts as a new format for sharing our work and that of our students.  They also discussed a new collaborative initiative with UARMS to integrate visual materials from the archives with the podcasts for a multisensory user experience. While there, they learned about the work their peers are doing in archives across North Carolina, ranging from digital storage solutions to institutional memory efforts. Vos reported that a highlight was Wesley Hogan's powerful plenary about her work at Duke's Center for Documentary Studies on the One Person, One Vote SNCC Legacy project and its recently launched website.  Hogan spoke on the need for marginalized voices and the history makers to have a voice in the documenting process.  Meanwhile Vos herself won the Michelle Francis scholarship from the SNCA and also attended the Librarians Association at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill annual conference in Chapel Hill on March 13, where she presented on the Year of the Podcast to librarians statewide.

News from Our Friends 
attendees at the March 9 announcement of the Northside Neighborhood Initiative
Congrats to former SOHP Interim Director Della Pollock and all our our other friends at the Marian Cheek Jackson Center for Saving and Making History, who were instrumental in bringing about the new Northside Neighborhood Initiative, which will bring the resources of the University, Chapel Hill, and Self-Help to invest in and protect the historically important neighborhood.  For more on this dramatic announcement that grew out of years of activism shaped in part by the richness of oral histories, see here.