Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Robert W. (Bob) Scott, April 4, 1990. Interview L-0193. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Decision to intervene in episodes of campus unrest, 1969

Scott discusses his decision to intervene in two separate campus incidents. First, he describes his decision to send state troopers to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill during the food workers' strike of 1969. That same year, Scott sent the National Guard in to North Carolina A&T in Greensboro during an outbreak of violence between the students and local police. In both cases, Scott explains that he acted independently of university officials and offers justification for his actions.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Robert W. (Bob) Scott, April 4, 1990. Interview L-0193. 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

WILLIAM LINK:
Let's talk a little bit more about something you raised earlier and that is what happened in 1969 with the strike at Chapel Hill. The cafeteria strike. Tell me a little bit more about the background of that and your role in sending in the state police, particularly vis-a-vis, in regard to your relationship with Bill Friday? In 1969, when the cafeteria strikes threatened with violenceߞit was presumably in response to that that you sent the state police in.
BOB SCOTT:
Yeah, theߞ It was the cafeteria workers who were striking for working conditions and salaries, and so forth, and the students took up their cause. It wasn't student-originated to begin with. It so happens that the leader of the cafeteria workers was from Alamance County, my home county. And our family knew her familyߞI did not know her personally. My uncle, Ralph Scott, who is dead now, was very active in the Legislature at that time and in the Senate. He knew this family, and he established a line of communication with this lady, and so he served as a conduit with the cafeteria workers, to me, and that is where the communication was. It wasn't with me to Bill Friday, or to the University. And really, this brings up another point here about this whole business of the University's Executive Committee role. That was a Chapel Hill campus issue, not a Consolidated University issue so much. And yet, everyone you know perceives that I should have been dealing with Bill Friday, when I should have been dealing with the chancellor of theߞCarlyle Sitterson. But the truth of the matter is, well as far as the cafeteria workers, we were, I was negotiating through my uncle, State Senator Ralph Scott. When the students took up the cause, then, of course, it escalated, and theyߞreally, before we knew anything about it, they took over this building and barricaded it and so forth. There wasn't any real communication, as I recall, between me and Chancellor Sitterson. I dealt mostly with the law enforcement officers on the scene, or my staff did, and it began to get ugly, and so I sent the Highway Patrol over there withߞthere were SBI agents over there. In fact, one of the guys who later worked on my security detailߞthis is always a little humorous thing with me. His name is Mike Frye, and Mike was sent over there as a sort of undercover agent who looked like a student and so forth, and they found out who he was and they named "Agent of the Week" [Laughter] The students did. [Laughter] But anyway, I sent the patrol in there, and the University didn't like that. It was just...
WILLIAM LINK:
Infringing on its authority?
BOB SCOTT:
Yeah, but the Chapel Hill Police Force and the Campus Securityߞit was much smaller than as it is now, and they just had never really had anything like that before, and they didn't know how to cope with it. Couldn't cope with it, they didn't have the resources to cope with it.
WILLIAM LINK:
How did the decision to send the state police in, did that come from local people on the scene, SBI people on the scene?
BOB SCOTT:
No, it came fromߞonly I could do that.
WILLIAM LINK:
Was it based onߞwhat was it based on?
BOB SCOTT:
Their recommendation. Well, the basic point was, are we going to leave those students up there or are we going to get them out of the building? nd sentiment in the state at that timeߞa governor, I don't care who it is, it is always sensitive to the politics of any situation, and a lot of people felt like, you know, are you going to let the students run the University and take it overߞyou know, who is in control here? The University beingߞany university, not just Chapel Hillߞthe, you know, the academic environment and so forth was such that you don't talk things out, and you reason together, and so forth. As opposed to the hard-nosed, hard-hat approach. And the perception was that the University wasn't doing anything about it. It costs the taxpayers and so forth. And what the hell you doing? Anyway, I made the decision. And the same thing at A&T, when I sent the National Guard in, and there was some great consternation that I did not communicate and talk with Chancellor Dowdy. I just made the decision. The Greensboro Police officer had gotten shot. The Greensboro City Police Officer had gotten shot and they were taking over the top floor dormߞwhich was, ironically, the Scott Dorm, named after my Dad. Fortunately, the student body had gone home for vacation, but that was the longest night that I ever spent because I knew that the Guard was there, and they were waiting for my decision, and I was trying to get all of the information I could. The Chancellor didn't have any communication with the students that were holed up in that dorm. So, essentially, it became a military operation. When I found out that they were firing from the dorm windows andߞthe students were andߞand I was getting all of the information that I could and so we decided somewhere during the night, around midnight or so, that we needed to go in and just get those students out of there, and that is when it became a military operation. We decided to wait until dawn to do itߞand went in. Fortunately, nobody got killed. I have said it beforeߞI really mean that. It could have been bad, we were just lucky, in a situation like that. But, again, I didn't communicate, you know, with them. In retrospect now, I suspect that I would haveߞyou know, at least told them what I had planned to do.