Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James Atwater, February 28, 2001. Interview K-0201. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Common experiences and family knowledge linked Atwater's father to some Chapel Hill leaders

Because Atwater's father had long experience living in Chapel Hill and working for the university, he occasionally had conversations with local education and business leaders. Those leaders relate to him based on common experiences on campus and knowledge of each other's family. One leader clearly still thought of black residents as the descendents of white residents' slaves.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James Atwater, February 28, 2001. Interview K-0201. 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

JAMES ATWATER:
Well, I know that-in any case, I was nominated for a couple of fellowships, when I was at North Carolina Central, and one of them was the General Education Board, and the other was the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. And at the time, one of the members of the committee . . . well, I don't want to go that far, because I-the details are a little hazy, but at that time, my father was working, I think it was the dental school, or one of the other schools. He was no longer at the dormitory. He'd been moved to-one of the professors there knew about where I was at that point and time. And he mentioned to my father, that I had a pretty good chance. I don't think he, I don't think he did anything but obviously he was aware of some of the things that were going on in making that decision. So, I don't want to say that the fact that he knew my father played any role, because I don't know that, but I know that he did say to my father that he thought I had a fairly good chance of getting one or the other. And in addition to that, related to one extent, after that happened, after the decision was made, my picture was in the newspaper. And, one of the businessmen in Chapel Hill, white businessman in Chapel Hill, long time, born and bred in Chapel Hill, had run a business for years and years, knew everybody, knew everything. Saw my picture, and of course he stopped my father on the street, and said, "saw your son's picture in the paper, who are you?" Well, meaning who, what's the background on your family. And of course, he had my father go back to my father's father, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
JENNIFER NARDONE:
Go ahead.
JAMES ATWATER:
No, no, he said, "oh I know who that is," he said, "those are the Smith N-word's." Meaning, my family origins came from a white family named Smith, which, the slave origin, was with a white family named Smith.