Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Harvey E. Beech, September 25, 1996. Interview J-0075. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Assesment of the black-centered objectives of UNC's Black Student Movement

Beech expresses his ambivalence of the establishment of a black culture building and a black studies curriculum. Initially, he believed such support signaled the Black Student Movement's acceptance of segregated facilities. He later realized that despite integration, little had appreciably changed however. Beech concedes that black unity is needed to overcome persistent racial injustices, but argues that America's greatness will depend on the abandonment of racial identities.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Harvey E. Beech, September 25, 1996. Interview J-0075. 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

How did you feel when the students in the Black Student Movement "stormed onto South Building" and we were demanding a black cultural center and the African-American Studies curriculum? How did you feel?
I had mixed emotions about it.
Could you explain that, please?
I had mixed emotions about it. We fought so hard to get rid of that segregated thing. It looked like at first, I thought we were going back to the same thing we left. But now, I've changed. I had assumed that things were better than they are. And we still need some togetherness, not for the purpose of being separate, but for the purpose of preparing for the future to overcome some of the injustices that still exist. The only way to do that is to put your heads together like the Indians did: powwow. [sound of clock chiming] Without hate, without anger or anything. Just a matter of being able to combat anger in an intelligent manner. [Inaudible] , but more than that, I think that we, in the naming of the Center, my personal theory is that it ought to be the Sonya Haynes Center, rather than Black Cultural Center. There's enough that she did to name it after her, rather than that it's Black. And let people come in and see what we can offer, what history shows that we have done. The reason for that thought is that if people, Whites, Caucasians, might say, well, they want to be by themselves, they want to be separate. But if we ask to be, the whole thing to be open then why can't we just have it open all the way? It's a matter of culture, rather than race. And the emphasis should be on the cultural side, rather than on the racial side. And Sonya was a person whose life was lived where anybody, White or Black should try to get along. That's the story we should tell. I might be wrong on that, but that's the way I felt, at first. might, I'd get upset if there's something about a White center. I'd get upset. But I don't relate the two on the same basis, because Blacks have been down trodden so much, I think you deserve a little more freedom to express your Blackness than the others whose been beating on your head all this time. You need to overcome, and visibly do it. But that's something you can think about. I don't think that's the important issue. The important issue is, when is America going to learn that it will never be great until we can forget this thing called race. When is an American going to be an American, without being a Black or a White American, or whatever? If Cuba can do it, and have you ever heard anybody say, "He's a Black Cuban?" No. Have you ever heard anybody say, "He's a Black Puerto Rican?" No. He's a Puerto Rican. Have you ever heard "Black Puerto Rican?" You read the paper, newspaper says that "A Black Puerto Rican committed this" or a Black Cuban? Have you ever heard that? Well, hell, if they can do it, why in the hell can't we be Americans? Without regard to race? When are we going to be Americans? Without the prefix.
I don't know.
Well, that's--America will never be great until we do that. Because we're dividing ourselves by the explanation, Black or White. And the funny thing about it is, when a White man does something, they don't say he's a White American. They say he's an American. When we do something, it's Black American. Huh? You hear me? That's what we got to get rid of, this race thing. I'm an American, you're an American, they're Americans, this is America. And you fall or rise on the fact that you're a good or bad person rather than your color. [Inaudible] . America will never achieve what we hope it will achieve until that happens. You can talk about welfare, abandonment, anything you want to talk about, taxes, cutting taxes, whatever; that's the key thing we should have emphasis on; when are Americans going to be just Americans without color. Hopefully, I'll be a part of that. I got a few more years to live, and I hope to be able to contribute something to see that goal.