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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ernest Seeman, February 13, 1976. Interview B-0012. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Student uprising at Duke University during the early 1930s

Seeman offers some brief remarks on his association with the student uprising at Duke University during the early 1930s. Seeman was employed as the head of Duke Press from 1925 to 1934, during which time he increasingly embraced radical politics and saw himself as an advocate for students. He describes his role in the publication of a student-written parody about Duke University President Few. Seeman does not go into great detail about the student uprising other than in describing the parody and mentioning bonfires on campus. Nevertheless, he argues that the uprising was undoubtedly inspired by the recent strikes at Erwin and thus his comments are revealing of connections between workers and students within the community.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Ernest Seeman, February 13, 1976. Interview B-0012. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

MIMI CONWAY:
We were talking about the lampoon. Can you tell me more about what was going on on the campus?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Following right on the heels of the cotton mill strike . . .
MIMI CONWAY:
At Erwin?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
. . . and the bonfires, Few called me to his office and got me cornered. He said, "Now I've been knowing you a long time;" after we had it out he said, "I don't want to do anything to you. I'll just go in the next room, and you just write down the name of the students, and you'll never hear anything about it." I said, "I'd be hanged first."
MIMI CONWAY:
What students did he want you to write down?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
The ones that had written . . .
MIMI CONWAY:
The parody.
ERNEST SEEMAN:
The Paucus thing.
MIMI CONWAY:
OK. Now, was it after King Paucus came out that there were . . . Can you tell me more about the student uprising at Duke, and how it was connected with Erwin?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. I was sick at Mr. Henry's house with the grippe or something, upstairs, my wife waiting on me. And "Wilkie," 25 the newsman in the news department, he was a good friend (he's recently died; he got way too fat); and he came around to my bedside to tell me what was going on. 25 Albert "Wilke" Wilkinson.
MIMI CONWAY:
What was going on? Can you describe it?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. Few was suspecting me and maybe him (he'd been in it too).
MIMI CONWAY:
Can you tell me about the student uprising?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. So it happened while I was sick, but that didn't do any good; they figured I was in back of it (I was the prominent radical). And nobody had ever done that before.
MIMI CONWAY:
Done what before? The bonfires? [Interruption]
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, it came out in the Raleigh paper: "Student Revolution at Duke." And the director of public relations, Dwire had gone to Florida for a vacation. And oh, he was so angry; he had to come tearing back to see about this student revolution at Duke and to downgrade it, you know (that it wasn't so . . . ) And Wilke (the newsman) came to see me at Mr. Henry's and sat by my bedside and told what all was going on. He was chortling with glee; he was glad to see it.
MIMI CONWAY:
What did he see of the student rebellion at Duke?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, he'd been in touch; see, he was one of the newsmen in the news office. It all went through his hands what was happening. That was the talk for quite a while [laughter].
MIMI CONWAY:
But can you tell me about it? Can you tell me what was going on? You mentioned earlier that this happened right after the strike at Erwin Mills. 26 26 The parody "The Vision of King Paucus," was circulated at Duke in November 1933. The Student Rebellion took place in February 1934. See Time Magazine, Feb. 19, 1934; The Durham Sun, Feb. 17, 1934; the Durham Herald, Feb. 9, 1934. Can you tell me about that?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes, it was undoubtedly inspired by that; they saw the workers rising up, and they figured the students were going to rise up.
MIMI CONWAY:
What did the students do?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Wrote the parody. They wrote it; they sent it off and had it printed; they circulated it.
MIMI CONWAY:
But did you also say that there were bonfires? What else was going on on the campus at this time?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes, sure; they had bonfires. And that's when Few got me up in the corner in his office and told me to write down the names. And I said I'd be hanged first and went out.
MIMI CONWAY:
Were there strikes? Or how were the students revolting? They wrote the parody; what else did they do? [Interruption] Can you tell me about how it was that you left Duke?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, one morning this big old tub of guts, Henry R. Dwire, he phoned me to come to his office - he was very peremptory. So I went to his office. I feared something was going to happen: he'd been collecting evidence on me. He and Flowers had surprised me in my office one morning (barged in very suddenly). The door was closed, but they opened it and busted in. And I was busy writing [laughter]. I had my office well-organized so Exie Duncan and Manly Dunn could do the shipping. That ought to be mentioned somewhere . . .
MIMI CONWAY:
You were talking about how it was you left Duke; can you tell about that?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. He phoned me to come to his office.
MIMI CONWAY:
Dwire or Flowers?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Over right there he had a little table about this big.
MIMI CONWAY:
Who did?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Dwire. And he had it right in front of him - he was going to play cat and mouse. And he had a letter; he said, "Read this letter." He set him down about as far as from here to there (that's you and this is me), and he laid the letter on the table. He wanted to enjoy the victory. So I read it, and looked him in the eye. And I said, "I'm not afraid," and went away.