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Free-Standing Black Cultural Center Endorsed by School Chancellor

October 18, 1992

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) _ A black cultural center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was endorsed by the school’s chancellor after black students marched at his home and rallied with the help of Spike Lee.

The issue: whether the free-standing center would be a symbol of separatism or a safe haven.

That it became an issue at all puzzled Chancellor Paul Hardin.

″What are the lingering problems of racism on this campus that make people feel undervalued?″ he asked in a recent interview.

The university endorsed a black cultural center in 1989, but it was never funded. Black students said they wanted a free-standing center to replace one in a refurbished snack bar at the student center.

Hardin stirred the conflict in March, when he cautioned against allowing a separate building to become a symbol of racial separatism, provoking anger among black students.

Black students, led by a group of football players, demanded Hardin endorse a free-standing center and issued a Nov. 13 ultimatum. They marched twice on his home, staged a protest during a university celebration and drew 4,000 for a rally headlined by Lee.

Lee urged black athletes to use their role as moneymakers for the university to press for change.

″A lot of whites think the blacks will get something of their own and we will be separated. Our answer to that is we feel separated when we walk into class,″ said Latricia Henry, president of the Black Collegiate Caucus.

On Sept. 23, a committee appointed by Hardin began studying the issue. Student groups refused to meet with the committee, saying the university already had a plan for the center. One committee member threatened to quit, saying the panel was moving too fast.

By early October, the committee endorsed a separate center. Last week, Hardin endorsed the idea. Since state law prohibits use of tax dollars for such non-academic buildings, Hardin said private funds could be raised to fund the center.

The university opened in 1795 and accepted its first black students in 1951, to the law school. The first black undergraduates were admitted in 1955.

Over the years, the university has become a comprehensive institution known for basketball, medical research and liberal thinking.

Charlie Higgins, vice president of the student body, said white students probably wouldn’t go to a black center.

″The campus is not a warm environment for minority students,″ said Higgins, who is white and a member of Hardin’s committee. ″The problems go very deep. Building a free-standing center may not be the thing we can do to promote racial harmony. A lot of people who have these reservations are afraid to speak up for fear of being labeled racist.″