Powerful Article Written by Crew Leader George James

Below is a Letter to the Editor, written by George James, former member of the Black Panther Party and currently a crew leader in the UNC housekeeping department.  He sent this to the Daily Tarheel (DTH) to clarify some previous statements he made in regards to the pervading discrimination and injustice in the department. This was never printed in the DTH, but is a compelling article that George (and SAW) would like to expose to the public:


Thank you for the DTH article (Sept.13, 2013) detailing the steps taken by senior managers and other parties in the Housekeeping Services Dept. to improve the culture and atmosphere for workers.  While it is important not to lose the ability to look back and see where we have come from and where we hope to go, it is unfortunate that the institutional memory of UNC is so defensive and one-sided in regards to the department.  The questions at the heart of my responses are both simple and profound.  How much has American society and especially the South, changed with regard to race relations since 1965?  Is racism still the greater problem–or is it a patronizing relic of a vanished age?

We need to remind you that a successful law suit was filed against the university 17 years ago.  Most likely, if you are new to the Chapel Hill campus, or even if you have been here awhile, you have a romantic image of the history of the university–it is the ‘the first state university’, ‘the university of the people’, ‘the light that shines.’  Unfortunately, this is a censored history.  It is bad enough that Cameron Avenue’s namesake was N.C.’s largest slave-holder.  In another example of the way in which the university romanticizes its history, a 637 page book published in 1994 (available in the North Carolina Collection of Wilson Library) contains no mention of slavery or white supremacy in all the glowing biographies of those honored by public buildings.

An administrator’s opinion acknowledged the obvious: that a great deal has changed for the better.  However, the evidence and logic value of continued mistreatment is by no means unambiguous.  Still, while the days of Mr. Burston are gone, dislocation for employees remains a big problem; that is management is still “packing” Burmese nationals into single work sites, spreading Black workers thinly among several work sites and so on.  Certain facts, too, are unavoidable notably that not one African-American has been selected as Chancellor thruout the 17 UNC-system schools.  In short, workers have concluded that a tooth-less grievance policy coupled with case-by-case enforcement alone leave citizens with an inadequate remedy.

Nothing about the Dept. is static, as the Sept. 13 article illustrates.  It’s a more complicated Dept. these days, but it’s not a fully-healed one, either.  So far, the Dept. has been eager to portray itself as beyond the need for racial remedies.  For better or worse, our problems are solved when the South Building says they are–and these Administrators appear determined indeed to close the door to an era that may not be completely over.  For more information, go to uncsaw.wordpress/unc-labor-history.

Students who are interested in challenging institutional racism have many ways to get involved through existing campus organizations.  Those who would like to educate themselves, possibly receiving course credit for their work, should consult with sympathetic faculty or campus institutions such as the Dept. of African-American Studies, the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and history, or the Institute for African-American Research.  You may also contact me in care of the Employee Forum and I will be glad to assist you.

George James

Department of Building Environmental Services”

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