On Feb. 8, 1960 – exactly a week after four black students from North Carolina A&T State University led a sit-in at the lunch counter of a Woolworth store in Greensboro – about 20 men and women conducted a similar protest in downtown Durham.
Among them was Edith Hubbard, who was a senior at Merrick-Moore High School in Durham.
“I remember I was on the line in front of Woolworth’s and this man came up and put his cigarette out in my hair,” Hubbard said.
And in the 16 years since she had been born, she said, it was the first time she had encountered hate. But it would not be the last.
It happened again in summer 1964, during orientation week at Carolina as she was about to begin her junior year after transferring from Bennett College, a historically black college for women in Greensboro.
She was assigned to a room on the second floor of Whitehead Residence Hall with five other girls. She was the last to arrive, she remembers, and when she walked into the room, it went completely silent.
All the other girls were white, Hubbard said. And by nightfall, they all had left.
“One of the girls came up to me and said, ‘Oh, my girlfriend is sick and I am going to spend the night with her.’”
Southern women were taught to sugarcoat their meanness, especially with black people, Hubbard explained.
One by one, they made excuses until every bunk bed in the room was empty except hers. “I know subconsciously I was hurt, but I was also thinking, ‘This isn’t so bad. I’ve got privacy and all this space.’”
That feeling of aloneness followed her for the next two years, but it was not a roadblock. In 1966, Hubbard graduated with a double major in psychology and sociology.
Just as she had followed Karen Parkeras the second African-American woman to enroll at Carolina, Hubbard became the second to graduate. (Parker arrived as a transfer student in 1963 and graduated with a journalism degree in 1965.)
The same year she enrolled, Hubbard married the man who had been her fifth-grade boyfriend at the all-black Pearsontown Elementary School in Durham. While she was studying at Carolina, he was enrolled at nearby North Carolina A&T. The next year, their daughter, Rhonda, was born.
Hubbard, who later returned to Carolina to work in the Office of Sponsored Research, shared with her daughter the stories of the things she had experienced as a student here, and all the reasons she thought Rhonda should still come to Carolina.
Rhonda Hubbard Beatty came to Carolina as a first-year student in 1983 knowing all the things her mother had gone through – and believing her experience would be different. And it was.
She also had opportunities to do things her mother never had, like going to work for the late UNC President Bill Friday as the floor manager for his long-running interview show, “North Carolina People.” She also served as an intern for News Services.
And whereas her mother had to endure white students picking up their trays in Lenoir Hall when she sat beside them, Beatty said she was able to hang out with her friends, both black and white, around the Pit.
“I didn’t have the kind of experiences my mother had,” Beatty said. “I was aware that there were people who clearly preferred to keep themselves away from minority students, but I didn’t allow that to affect me. My Carolina experience was not shaped by race. It was shaped by diverse experiences with my friends and the leadership roles I had in the School of Journalism.”
Then again, some things were not that different. Beatty joined the Black Student Movement, was managing editor of The Black Ink and took part in the struggle to get the University to build a freestanding black cultural center. That fight continued after she graduated in 1987 with a degree in journalism and public relations. She went on to marry a Carolina law student, Bryan E. Beatty, and started a family.
Beatty pursued a career in communications and special events planning. When she returned to campus four years ago to serve as the program officer for communications and marketing for the Carolina Center for Public Service, the Sonja Haynes Stone Center had already been standing for seven years.
In fall 2011, Beatty’s daughter, Nicole, enrolled at Carolina.
“It was the same as when I was growing up with my mom,” Beatty said. “It was just assumed that Nicole was going to college and the college she would be going to would be Carolina.”
Nicole said she knows she has had opportunities her mother didn’t have, including the chance to expand her interest in helping others through programs at the Carolina Center for Public Service.
Just as her mother passed on her love of Carolina, Nicole said, she also passed down her interest in journalism and public relations. Nicole is now a senior majoring in journalism, focusing on public relations – and a minor in Spanish for the business professions.
And last fall, she had the chance to do something her mother never would have dreamed of: spending an entire semester studying abroad in Spain.
During a history class her first year here, Nicole said, she interviewed her grandmother and learned more about the things she went through as a Carolina student that Nicole never had to face.
One story stood out, Nicole said.
There was a white professor in an English course who challenged Hubbard the moment she walked into class with these words: “You are not supposed to be here.”
At first, Hubbard said, she thought he meant that she had walked into the wrong class, but she checked her course schedule. The building, the course, the class number, the time and day, were all listed on her paper.
“Yes, I am,” she said.
“No, you are not,” he repeated. “You are not going to pass this course. You are wasting your time.”
In a flash of anger, she shouted an obscenity that would have left her mother appalled and said that if he did not pass her he would have to fail everyone else in the class as well.
“I remember my heart was just pounding because I was so hurt and so angry,” Hubbard said.
She enlisted three faculty members in the English department who critiqued her papers and marked them with the grade they would have given, which consistently were A’s or B’s, Hubbard said.
“There were wonderful white people in my life who reached out to lift me up even when others were reaching to push me down,” Hubbard said.
At the end of the semester, the professor who taught the course gave her a C. Although it was not the grade Hubbard knew she had truly earned, it was enough to prove him wrong. And in the end, that was all that mattered.
Hubbard also described to Nicole how she had visited all the sororities during rush week in 1964 and been turned down everywhere because of the “all-white clause” in their charters.
“My experience was different,” Nicole said.
She was accepted into the historically white sorority Alpha Chi Omega. She wasn’t trying to make a statement or blaze a trail for black women to follow, she said.
“I joined Alpha Chi because, for me, race was not an impediment. I had choices. I chose to be with my friends and I was not constrained by antiquated thinking on race,” Nicole said. “My grandmother did not have that choice and – thanks to the
sacrifices of so many – I did.”
With Nicole’s upcoming graduation in May, both Hubbard and Beatty know that it will be a Mother’s Day gift that marks the difference in experience for three generations of Tar Heel women who each found her own way, walking the same path on a campus they all deeply love.