One of my history department chairmen had the habit of hiring at whim as instructors various unqualified people, lacking appropriate degrees and without the vetting that was usually done. A new, more professional chairman decided, rightly, to get rid of them. One was a radical African-American preacher, notorious for complaints and a cavalier attitude toward duties. A discrimination complaint was duly filed. Two African-American lawyers from the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice showed up. I was chairman that year of the tenure and promotion committee, and I was called in along with the chairman to be interrogated. The two federal representatives wore very expensive suits and watches. You had the impression they flew first class and stayed in the best hotels. They were very polite as we humbly explained the problems with the complainant and apologized that our strenuous efforts to hire African-American faculty were usually defeated by the raids of wealthier institutions. After a half-hour’s leisurely inspection they left, and nothing was ever heard from them again.
The business of African-American faculty and students taught me a lot about liberalism. I always advocated that African-Americans who had teaching positions in the state and who applied for advanced graduate study be admitted. I considered it a duty appropriate to a state university and an opportunity for a reconciliation of the history of white and black Southerners. Liberals almost always opposed these admissions—because handling such students would probably require more time and effort on their part. Indeed, they usually opposed admissions of anybody from within the state, however well qualified, much preferring mediocre carpetbaggers who resembled themselves. I noticed that the more “liberal” a professor was, the more likely he was to vote no on such admissions, to resent the exaggerated salaries paid to black faculty members, and to send his children to a private school.
There had been a lot of arrests of sodomites in the artsy community in town. (That happened in those days because the criminal law was still based on the Bible rather than Marcusian sociology. Sodomy was a felony, along with murder, robbery, and housebreaking.) The most liberal reporter on the paper I was then working for, indeed the only liberal reporter on the paper, tearfully begged the editor to suppress the news about the arrest of his friend in the theater set, stressing the unusual and innocent sensitivity of the accused. So much for fearless journalism.
My first child was born in the university hospital in Chapel Hill while I was a graduate student. My wife shared a room with an obviously rich girl from Atlanta, also with a newborn. Her somewhat effete husband waddled in and presented her with a gift in honor of the occasion: a copy of My Life With Martin Luther King, Jr., by Coretta King. They had a breathless discussion about the Rev. Dr. King. The new mother spent the day after the birth reading her celebratory gift while ignoring a book on baby care she also had, although she was obviously completely clueless about the care of her gift of Heaven. She complained that our daughter was kept as much as possible in the room with her mother, although she sang to herself all night. Not wanting to bother the nurses, she managed to knock her bedpan onto the floor in the middle of the night.
I should make clear that these were white people. During my family’s stay we learned that both had very wealthy parents. They were students living in an apartment for which the rent was four times what we were paying for a small house, and they had recently had a vacation in Nassau. I was working my way through school with a full-time job. Since he was an official “graduate assistant,” they only paid half of what we had to pay for the hospital stay. “Liberalism” is a lucrative and gratifying business, which may explain some of its staying power.
Lots of people, then and later, were astonished at the flourishing of “conservative” students on the notoriously “liberal” Chapel Hill campus during the revolution of the 60’s. We carried a mock presidential convention for Goldwater. The liberal Gov. Terry Sanford had been invited early on to address the convention. I remember with pleasure his stunned look when he entered the hall awash with Goldwater signs.
There was a student who had written a few things that were quite simpatico. I forget exactly where they were published. We also had heard that this student’s family was close to Jesse Helms, already well known for his Raleigh television commentary and about to enter on his national career. With a friend, Martin Wilson (no kin), I went to call on this fellow to invite him to participate in some of our “conservative” discussions and activities. (This was before the time of Sam Francis.) His one-man abode turned out to be a large room hidden away in one of the more historic buildings, a place for only very well-connected students. Most of us lived two or three to cramped and decaying dorm rooms. He was rather lackadaisical and uninterested in our invitation to participate in “conservative” activities, and we went away. Some years later, and surprisingly his name came to my attention again—from San Francisco way. It was Armistead Maupin.
A surprise gift from Tom and Gail Fleming during one of their marvelous Italian programs came in the form of a drive to the top of a hill, which turned out to be Solferino! I stood on the spot where Johnston Pettigrew, the “Carolina Cavalier,” had stood in 1859, shortly after the battle. I could look across the long valley through which the French had charged to rout the Austrians—a place so similar in topography to another hill and valley in Pennsylvania where there was, a few years later, a similar battle but a sadder outcome.