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Interview with Dorothy Dae

Dae, Dorothy
Dae, Dorothy
Sanders,Bridgette; Stickel, Lois
Date of Interview: 
October 11, 2004
Civil rights, University of North Carolina at "Charlotte, NC", Black Student Union, Black Studies Department
Dorothy Dae discuss her role and memories as a student at the University of North Carolina at "Charlotte, NC" during the late 1960s and early 1970s. She discusses the role of the Black Student Union and race relations on the campus.
"Charlotte, NC", NC; 1968-1975
Interview Setting: 
Conference room at J. T. Williams Middle School
Oral History, UNC Charlotte Civil Rights Series
BS(Bridgette Sanders): OK. Good morning. Today is Monday October the 11th and my name is
Bridgette Sanders. And I'm here along with fellow interviewer
Lois Stickell
Ms. Dorothy Dae who has agreed to be interviewed based on our project.
[pause] LS: Tell me what year you started at UNC Charlotte, NC.
DD: 1969. I graduated in '73. Then again in '75. I have two degrees.
LS: OK. So you started in September of '69.
DD: August.
LS: August. OK.
DD: August of '69.
LS: OK. OK. And what were your first impressions of the campus?
DD: I came from a rural area in Caldwell County. And we were all in Sanford Hall. One of the first people to move into the dorm. The back wall , the back rooms did not exist. So they had that so if you opened the door you just went straight down to the ground. So they kind of warned us and fixed that. [laughter] So you just couldn't go in and out that back door. But a, boys and girls, we were all in one building. We were all in one building. It wasn't co-ed. It was girls on one floor and boys on another floor. Well, two floors. We've have two, then they've have two, then we'd have two, they'd have two. For that first half of that first year. And then they finally finished that back wall and they finished Moore Hall, the boys roomed there. Interesting , I was frightened. Eighteen first year. First time away from home for any extended period of time. But after the first night or two, I went through freshman orientation that week that we went early it got to be wonderful and then I was always one of the last ones to leave and the first ones back. So.
LS: How did it get wonderful?
DD: I guess I just adjusted. I like meeting the new friends. I got my classes. Registration was a nightmare. I remember that first registration And we just, it was more than me. Got to look around and see. It was that arena scheduling where you went in. And. It was a nightmare. Because you were freshmen everything was closed. And you just sat down and cried, and so at that point after that two or three hours of crying then another four hour headache from the tears I said, OK. I've got to figure out a way not to ever have to do this again. And one of the upper classmen told me to join the registration committee and you got to do it first. So. [laughs] From that point on, then after that. My sophomore year I became a cheerleader, so we always got to register first. So. Just figured out ways. And then by the time you were seniors everything was made available for you. There was no hassle as a senior. So that was that. But yeah, that first week being scary. Got over that. But then registration, that was an experience!
LS: And the late '60s was a time of a lot of turmoil in the country, Vietnam and civil rights. What, did you see about on campus and how was that? Tell us about it.
DD: I remember when they first started the lottery. And I remember a young man. European-American male came running through the union. The student union at that time was in the Cone Center on the lower level. There wasn't all that fancy stuff. There was two floors. The bottom level was where we ate and the top floors were they had meetings, etc. And the bookstore was actually up there. And he came running through just screaming, "I won, I won, I won!" And we were sitting there at the table, I think, having lunch and I said, "What did he win?" And one of the other guys said, "He's number one on the lottery." So at that point it hit home that a lot of those kids were going to be leaving. And we wouldn't see some of them again. So that was my first reality that, OK, OK. This thing was about us. I don't think I'll ever forget that.
LS: And what about the Black Student activism? I know in late 1968 there was an incident with the flag.
DD: Late 1968. That was right before. The Spring before I got there. That's when the Black Student Union was trying to be formed and that involved Ben Chavis, T. J. Reddy, and James Grant. And some other students on campus. But they had taken down the American flag and run up the Black American flag. The red, black, and green for Africa. I think that, I mean I don't think, I know that was resolved. But when I got there that Fall there was still a lot of activism going on. When we, we had to really fight to get the Black Student Union chartered. I mean really fight. It was rejected and rejected. One time it was rejected and it was submitted in the likeness as the Constitution of the United States. The only thing different was that we took out United States and put Black Student Union. And it was rejected. So. We then regrouped and learned that OK. You can't go up against them, you've got to work from within. So we started putting, getting people who would be favorable on the, on the student government. Cuthberson was one of them. And we had worked, mapped out a strategy. And the strategy was we would all go to the meetings. Well, you have to understand, all at that time might have been fifty seven. [laughter] So. But fifty-seven in one room that's not accustomed to having that many African American faces. So the strategy was that one of the African Americans on the SGA, it was on the agenda and when it came up they would move for acceptance and someone else would second. And then someone else would ask for roll call. And with all of us sitting there was the only way we got it passed. Because no one was willing to say no with us sitting there watching them reject their own constitution. So that's how we got the Black Student Union chartered on campus.
LS: Now, when you said. "We decided." Was there a planning, was it informal or?
DD: No, it was formal. We would meet and come up with strategies on how we were going to get things done that would benefit us. So, we had. We had regular Black Student Union meetings.
LS: OK. And you sought of mentioned a couple of people who were active. You mentioned Ben Chavis and T. J. Reddy. Was Ben Chavis still there when?
DD: He was there when I was in, for at least a year, maybe two.
LS: And was he still a campus leader or?
DD: Oh, yes.
LS: He was? Really.
DD: Ben. When Ben was elected national president of the NAACP, I thought, wow, they don't know what they've gotten. Ben Chavis is probably the blackest man in America. Now he's not black in color, but someone who is more ethically aware, ethically aware of himself and as to African Americans as a people. His heart has always been in the right place. Ben is not a mean person, but he is truly an activist and he will fight for what he believes in. He was well respected and admired. But feared, we were all on scholarship. So when it come time after we got a charter ,then we had to officially elect a president, and I'm sure it just crushed him. But we would not chose Ben, because we needed to graduate. We were there on scholarships and grants. And our parents, most of us were first generation. Our parents were depending on us to come home with a degree and not a record. [laughter] So we did not elect him. It has been said that that time from '69 to about '73, that that was probably the most unique group of African American people that they ever assembled together--and it was all by accident--in one place. We were all very, very strong. We did well academically, when we wanted to, and we still found time to do the things we needed to do. It was during that time, I mentioned I was a cheerleader. I was one of the first two. That, too, was a concession because there had never been any. The Black Student Union. Then, during my era, we decided we wanted a black Ms. UNCC. That's when Cora Pearson was elected. That was a block vote and campaign issue. So we learned to work within the system. I don't, I'll never forget my time there because I learned so much about how America works and what you've go to do to get what you want. And then you may not get what you want, but you'll get close to it. By working within the system. Can't get much fighting against it, all you're going to get is resistance. But if you work within, you can accomplish so much more. And that's, that was one lesson that I have carried with me. I graduated in '73 the first time, '75 the second time so. We're talking about a long time ago.
LS: Did you?
DD: Yes, not here.
LS: How do you think the campus changed over the time that you were there?
DD: Oh, the campus changed. First of all, it's grown tremendously. I ride out there, I live in Charlotte, NC, so I ride out there often just to see the changes. It's beautiful. I've watched, though, over the years, having been in Charlotte, NC that the kids forget. They forget the struggle. They give up things that we fought for, they just, they take it for granted. There were, because we had to fight so hard, there were certain behaviors that we would never engage in because it reflected not just on us, it reflected, I mean not just on us as individuals. It would reflect on all of us. And like I said you're talking a hundred out of seven thousand, I mean we were small numbers. But now they, kids. Kids are so integrated that they don't, just take everything for granted. They don't, they don't realize that what they have and see it as a right of passage was actually fought for for them to have. So that's primarily what I see as far as African American and black activism. Some of the things I've heard that they do, I'm thinking how could you, how could you do that? [raises voice] Do you understand what you're doing? You're taking us back, back, back. But they don't understand. They really don't understand. And thank goodness that in America, and we can all say what we want to say, but once that hurdle is passed, its not often that people will try to go back across that bridge. It's like if you get across, OK. You're across. That's it. Now there may be some give and take, and there may be some regression but never all the way back, so.
LS: Do you think that some of the campus activism in the '60s spread out to the community?
DD: Oh yes. Especially with Ben and with T. J. I'm surprised T.J. is so quiet today. I guess we all get old-er, [laughs]. He has a daughter that's in high school here in "Charlotte, NC", so other things have priority. But a, when we first started, I forget where the house is. There was a house that someone had gotten, had painted black. And all on the outside, it was fresh paint, black, black . Everything was black. And there is, should be a picture in one of the year books with all of us standing in front of that house. And it's over on Oaklawn, Oaklawn is just right up the street. Actually it's part of my feeder area [for J.T. Williams Middle School]. The new park at Oaklawn, what used to be Fairview Homes, OK. It's standing on the site where that house was.
LS: And, and what was the house?
DD: It was just a symbol of black pride.
LS: Did people live there or?
DD: I think it might have been one of those Black Panther Houses. Ben was a Panther, I don't think most people knew that either. He was an active Panther, but he wasn't violent that we knew of. He would just would do, Ben was at that age where he really believed in Malcolm. He had studied Mao Tse Tung and he still professes some allegiance to Elijah Muhammad. And those were all his beliefs, so I think that's how he got in this. The Panthers, 'cause that's pretty much, except they believed in the use of violence or force. Of course Malcolm believed in by any means necessary. And so that was the philosophical belief he was operating within. Which is what scared us to death. [laughs] We can go along to the point of OK lets do it. [laughter] But that's where we were able to separate.
LS: Now he ran for City Council? Ben Chavis ran for city office?
DD: I don't remember that. I know he was the national president of the NAACP and it wasn't his ability to lead that is the reason why he's not, they found some scandal. I think once, once he got in office people starting digging and discovered we're not ready for him. Because at the time, right after, right before they came up with whatever it was they used. It was sort of like the way Clinton was done. You can't find anything in integrity, then you go for your morals. But he was about to get the gangs in California together. He had already had meetings, they had sat down. So he is a remarkable leader, he just scares you to death.
LS: Do you still know him?
DD: I don't know. I'm not in contact. I admire him, I just couldn't follow him. But I admire him.
LS: We sent him a letter but we didn't hear back from him. But we may try again. When do you think the activism started to die down? Did it happen while you were still a student?
DD: No. See it took years for us. First we got, our first thing was to get the Student Union chartered. That was almost a year. It took a year to get that, and I don't know what had happened before I got there. But my freshman year, that was our whole focus. And then next we wanted representation in, in the different branches of activities going on. So then we, you know, through that Black Student Union we would meet and say OK who's going to do this? And so we got ready for the cheerleading thing. We were all called together and just told OK. We need black cheerleaders. We can get this but we can't get it without people ready. So we had an obligation to try out, to learn the cheers, to practice. We'd practice with each other. I mean we worked hard. And a.--
LS: Had you been a cheerleader, did you know how to cheerlead?
DD: No, I had been an athlete, but not a cheerleader. But a. I'm quite an athlete though. So when it came time, it was myself and a girl named Wyietta Knight. We called her Koko. We made it. And the good thing about that is that when we made it, it was obvious that we deserved to be out there. It wasn't a gift. We made it. But all of us, all of the black females that were staying on that campus, and one or two that were off campus, but most of us who stayed on campus because we had time at night to actually get together and rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse. We all tried out. There must have been twenty five, thirty of us that actually tried out that summer. So, and we did it because of the Black Student Union. Everything we did, we did it because we had met, we had discussed it, we'd hashed it out, we'd argue with each other, that wasn't the issue. We had ground rules. You argued, said what you got to say here, but when we walk out of here, we're doing this. And then after that was the homecoming queen. Or the Ms. UNCC. And that was Cora. That was my junior year, and I think her sophomore. And then what were we doing? We were running people for. Oh, then we got into scholarships and we finally realized that there's money around here that people are deciding on. So myself and three others were on that committee, and we were able to funnel some money back by being on those scholarship committees and making those decisions. We still got involved, but we got involved, organized. We were organized to get involved. It wasn't haphazard. We had people on the publication boards, so we had types of entertainment coming in that we wanted. We, we had Larry Graham and Grand Central Station, we had what's those people do 'when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter is aligned with Mars?' Peace and Love.
LS: Fifth Dimension.
DD: Yeah. They were there. [laughter]
LS: She wanted them to come and now she can't remember who they were. [laughs]
DD: We're talking about a long time ago, thirty years. [laughter] But we were, just got involved in everything. Got involved in yearbook so we made sure we had good representation in that and we'd see some of our faces when it came out. So we just got involved so that we had our, a representative in almost every thing that was going so that we knew what was going on.
BS: Can I jump in?
LS: Sure.
BS: I have two questions. Ms. UNCC. I recall looking at the yearbook and Diane Scoggins.
DD: She was, that's right.--
BS: She first, oh she was the first person.--
DD: First person, she was.--
LS: She was the first employee, too, wasn't she?
DD: Yes. But she was the first Ms.UNCC and that was like in '68.
BS: Right. OK.
DD: Right, it was. But then Cora was the one that we got elected.. Cora Pearson.
BS: OK. And along with the Black Student Union and getting people represented on the different activities, I recall one of the demands was to hire more minority, or African American, instructors.
DD: That was the next step. That was when Bertha Rodney. Bertha Maxwell Rodney. She's still here in "Charlotte, NC".
BS: I heard she was.
DD: Talk about some great history now. She was it. And she actually then started the Black Student Union, not Union, the Black Studies Department. The Black Studies Department. And through that department we got more African American representation. We got Mary Harper, Bev Ford in the nursing department. Bertha. And what are some of the others? I can't remember. But it started with Bertha. Bertha, Bertha would have encounter sessions. And we'd all go, all the black kids on campus would go to those encounter sessions. They were day long events.[laughter] But we got excused. We had to still do our work, but we got excused. It was like two or three days. You remember when encounters were a big thing when you did these touchy feely things and then you were supposed to get in touch with yourself? You're too young to.
LS: OK. I know what I was going to ask. And you graduated in '73?
DD: '73.
LS: And, but you stayed on campus for another two years.
DD: No. I went to work in Gaston County teaching and then I just came back part time working on my master's.
LS: OK. OK. Those are kind of our list of questions.--
BS: I have one more. And I think this is one of the ones we had down but didn't remember to write back down. Race relations between the African American students and the white students or the atmosphere. What, what was it like? I know the group had to fight. But outside of the fighting for the things that you wanted, how, what was the atmosphere between the white students and the African American students?
DD: It was fine. It was just, it was a, [pause] probably a little bit more pronounced then than it is today.where people just gravitate to their comfort level. We'd go to the cafeteria. We had about six or seven tables standing there at the bottom of the Student Union that were called the black tables. We could leave money, food, it didn't matter. Nobody messed with it. They knew that was the table that the black kids sat at. So it didn't matter what we left there. It stayed. It stayed all, it stayed for twelve hours until the janitors cleaned up that night. It was not touched. And then, but the sports. See whenever the sports came in then you couldn't segregate. Even with the intramurals there weren't enough of us so we would we mixed in to play the flag football and play on those teams. And had a good time. But that and when you have to work with people in those type scenarios you forget about race and you have team effort. And then when we joined the cheerleading squad, we were cheering for the 49ers, not just the black kid on the 49ers. And then the cheerleaders, there were only two blacks out of nine. So that was seven whites and we all went to the same places, we flew, we took buses, we did what we needed to do, we traveled with the team. So race just wasn't a part and you said these are my cheerleading partners.--
LS: Were they accepting?
DD: Oh yeah. They were fine. I was an RA in the dorm for two or three years, I can't remember, I think it was three. A Resident Advisor and I had to take care of everyone on the floor, not just the black girls on the floor, everybody on the floor. Did that one summer, as well. I mean, it got to be, after we got started getting concessions the racial thing seemed to just. It never goes away, you have to live the experience, but it gets to a point where you can tolerate it without it flaring up and you having to keep mentioning it to people. So it got to that point by the time we were juniors. It started easing up. After the big battles were over, then it started easing up because, like I said, we learned how to get things. And, and then. I guess the university learned they're not going away [laughs] so if they're qualified and they're doing the right things then we need to go ahead and recognize that.
LS: Now, were you there when they had a student court to try Ben Chavis or?
DD: That was Ben and Charlie. Wasn't Charlie Sutton in on that? Charlie Sutton, you know him?
LS: I guess.
DD: Remember Charlie Sutton?
LS: No.
DD: Charlie was a senior my freshman year and he was SGA president. Rumor has it. I don't know if this is true. But rumor has it that the University actually gave, paid Charlie's way to go to some other school. [laughs] Charlie is a European-American male, very, very, very smart. Very, very, very militant. Charlie and Ben they were real good friends and Charlie had found some damaging information. Now I don't know how much of that he gave to Ben. But I do know that Charlie kind of disappeared. You don't disappear your senior year. But a, he's gone. And I was told. I don't know if this is hearsay. This is hearsay, you can investigate it if you like. But. That he was, his last year was financed at another school. So.
LS: I bet we can't investigate.
DD: Probably can't.
[laughter] LS: OK. Any other things you want to say? Any additions?
DD: About the trial. Ben was not on trial when I was there.
DD: So all of that must have happened in '68 about the flag and when they did all that, but he was not on trial when I was there. He was just, he was just the force. Ben Chavis, Ronnie Caldwell, you don't know him. Ronnie's a, you know Ronnie?
BS: I've never heard the name before.
DD: Ronnie's a gynecologist in Asheville. And Octavia Caldwell is her wife. Which she was Octavia something else then. She's, she's his nurse. They both, they are long up in Asheville. But he was one of the main ones. And a, of course T.J. And have you ever heard of Jim Grant?
LS: Yes.
DD: You talk to him, is he out of prison?
LS: You know, no we have not talked to him. T.J. Reddy mentioned him and we've had a hard time finding him because Jim Grant is a common name.
DD: James Grant.
LS: And um.
DD: Humphrey's would, might know James Grant is. But Grant, I do know that when they sentenced him. See it was Charlie Parker, James Grant, and T.J.
BS: That the "Charlotte, NC" Three?
DD: Yea. The "Charlotte, NC" Three that burned the Lazy B. Stables.
LS: Allegedly.
DD: Allegedly. Stables. But when Grant. Grant has a PhD in chemistry so the judge said, told him that prison was for rehabilitation so that people could be rehabilitated and eventually moved back into society. But with a PhD in chemistry they couldn't rehabilitate him. He actually made the bomb that blew up the stables. So they gave him twenty five years. So a.
LS: I thought T.J. Reddy said he was dead.
DD: I don't know you might want to check his prison record. But it's been thirty years so he should be out now if he's alive.
BS: No. No more questions.
LS: OK. Thank you. We a, you don't have to re--