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Student Protest Movements at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Labor Activism (mostly 1990s)


Since the early 20th century, UNC students have been active in supporting the rights of workers, both on campus and beyond, nationally and internationally. From supporting janitors on campus in the 1930s to the Food Service Workers Strike in 1969, and beyond, students on campus have been very active in workers' rights. In the 1990s, two very significant rallying issues for students occurred on campus: the housekeepers strike and subsequent lawsuit settlement (1996) and the University's $7.1 million Nike contract (1997).

See also UNC Students Study Nike, 1998, a blog post by University Archives at Wilson Library

Nickle and Dimed, 2003

newspaper front page DTH September 2003Summer Reading Program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Records, 1999-2003

The Summer Reading Program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was developed from recommendations made by the 1997 Chancellor's Task Force on Intellectual Climate to improve the first-year student orientation experience. Implemented in 1999, the program was designed to introduce students to the intellectual life of the university; all new undergraduate students (first year and transfer) are expected to participate. The program aims at enhancing students' critical thinking around a current topic, developing a sense of community among students, faculty, and staff, and providing a common experience for incoming students. Objections were raised to the selection for the 2003 summer reading program: Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On (not) Getting By in America. A group of UNC-Chapel Hill students calling themselves the Committee for a Better Carolina challenged the selection of Ehrenreich's book. The John William Pope Foundation supported the students by paying for a full-page ad in the Raleigh News and Observer calling the book a "classic Marxist rant" and a work of "intellectual pornography with no redeeming characteristics."

Office of Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: James Moeser Records, 1940s-2008 (bulk 2000-2008)

James Moeser became the chief administrative officer of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on 15 August 2000. In September 2007, he announced that he was stepping down as chancellor on 30 June 2008 with plans to return to the university in 2009, after a year's research leave, as a professor in the Department of Music. Of particular interest are files relating to the controversies surrounding the Carolina Summer Reading Program's choice of Michael Sells's Approaching the Qur'an and Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed. See files on the Summer Reading Program.

Books and Theses

Archival Resources

UNC Labor Support Group Ephemera. Materials related to the UNC Labor Support Group and labor activism at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This collection consists of ephemera-materials created for a specific event or purpose and intended to be discarded after use-related to events, departments, and organizations at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Examples of ephemera include flyers, brochures, and event posters.

Richard (Pete) Andrews Collection on The Nike Class, 1996-1998

In the spring of 1998, professors Richard (Pete) Andrews, Nicholas Didow, and James Peacock taught INTS 092: Economics, Ethics, and Impacts of the Global Economy: The Nike Example. The interdisciplinary seminar was inspired in part by protests at UNC-Chapel Hill following the renewal of UNC's multi-million dollar deal with Nike. In the course, students examined Nike's labor practices. The course attracted national media attention, particularly when Nike Chief Executive Officer Phil Knight visited campus at the end of the semester to attend the class. Records include the syllabus for the class, notes, student papers and presentations (made accessible with permission), materials used in the course, and news clippings.

Marsha Tinnen's Housekeepers Association Collection, 1991-2003

Marsha Tinnen's collection of photographs, publications, signs, articles, and newspaper clippings relating to the Housekeepers Association's efforts to organize for better working conditions, pay, and benefits at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill during the 1990s and 2000s.

John Kenyon Chapman Papers, 1969-2009

John Kenyon Chapman (1947-2009), known as Yonni, was a white, life-long social justice activist, organizer, and historian who focused his academic and social efforts on workers rights and African American empowerment in central North Carolina. He relocated to North Carolina in 1975 and worked as a laboratory technician at the North Carolina Memorial Hospital for about ten years. During this time, Chapman became active in local social justice struggles and community organizations. He helped organize his coworkers against unfair working conditions, became involved with the Communist Workers Party, and participated in African liberation and anti-apartheid struggles. Chapman was a survivor of the Greensboro Massacre of 1979. Throughout the 1980s, he was active in progressive social justice campaigns. In the 1990s and 2000s, Chapman was a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he focused his activism and academic work on historical accuracy, African American empowerment, and civil rights education in and around Chapel Hill. In 1980, he helped organize the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Housekeepers Movement. During the mid-1990s, Chapman was an organizing committee member of the People's Music Network, as well as co-manager of Internationalist Books in Chapel Hill. He was an expert witness in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Housekeepers Association lawsuit, and was instrumental in organizing and presenting the housekeepers' history. 

Alan McSurely Papers, 1928-2003 (bulk 1960s-1980s)

Lawyer Alan McSurely of Chapel Hill, N.C., was born in 1936 in Dayton, Ohio, and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. During the 1960s and 1970s, he and his wife, Margaret McSurely, worked with a number of organizations endeavoring to eliminate poverty, bring about an end to segregation, and organize workers in labor disputes. The collection consists of correspondence, legal documents, photographs, and publications pertaining to Alan and Margaret McSurely's work with civil rights and labor organizations in the 1960s and 1970s. The addition of September 2016 contains materials related to McSurely's work representing members of the UNC Housekeeping Association in Tinnen et al. v. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a legal battle that sought better working conditions for housekeepers at the university.

Students for Economic Justice of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Records, circa 1999

Students for Economic Justice was a student organization at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill active in the anti-sweatshops protest movement at the University in the 1990s. Records consist of handwritten posters created by Lorrie Bradley and other members of Students for Economic Justice during workshops with student and community groups. The posters include information about the conditions of workers and proposed plans for a code of conduct under consideration by the University.

Newspapers and other Publications

Labor activism at UNC-Chapel Hill has seen national coverage in the media. For example, see UNC Students Protest Nike Contract, Associated Press.

Newspaper coverage of the strike, in particular in the UNC newspaper The Daily Tar Heel, would be invaluable. See this part of the guide for more information.