Chapel Hill


CHAPEL HILL is a one-street village entirely surrounded by the University of North Carolina. Its main thoroughfare, whose merchants, movies, and restaurants cater alike to town and gown, is perhaps typical of all the village-college main streets of the country. Here is the local store of the A & P, where professor’s wives, overalled tobacco farmers, and students in search of the makings of a midnight feed, shop from the same shelves; the social-centre drugstores, where gossip, banana splits, and medicines for the dying are dispensed at the same time; the barbershops, on whose floors mingle the shorn locks of freshmen and the thin gray hairs of village elders; the secondhand bookshops, awhirl with cyclonic activity at the beginning of the semesters and moribund during the long intervals; the schizophrenic clothing stores, half rural and half collegiate; the restaurants that serve corn flakes with one hand while cashing two-dollar checks with the other.

Across the street, lost amid oaks, hollies, cedars, redbud, dogwood, and flowering fruit trees, stand the buildings of the University, ranging from the first structure completed in 1794 to the last dormitory built with the assistance of PWA funds in 1940. Near the Carolina Inn — Chapel Hill’s premier hostelry — there is a cluster of Georgian fraternity houses huddled together as if for comfort both against the surging hordes of youngsters who belong to no Greek-letter society and against the men who hold the mortgages on the houses. Scattered throughout the woods are the treesecluded homes of the faculty. Here are no factories, no hum of industry, no stain of black smoke against blue sky. This seems a rural Arcadia filled with woodsy innocence and naïve delight. But don’t be deceived. Beneath the surface there is an immense ferment.

The University of North Carolina is widely known throughout the economically and politically conservative South, as well as in the allegedly more enlightened North, for its liberalism. The term and the school are as inevitably associated in the Southern mind as are breakfast grits and bacon. To friendly critics, liberalism connotes a grasp of the changing needs of men in a changing world; to unfriendly critics it is a synonym of communism or something equally horrendous, such as the New Deal. But however the word may be construed, and whatever its meaning at Chapel Hill, it is well to understand the origins of the University. It came into being simultaneously with the pronouncement of the doctrine of the Rights of Man and the Declaration of Independence on this side of the Atlantic, and with the French Revolution — created in part by these doctrines — on the other side of the ocean.

So impetuous were the North Carolinians of that day, and so certain were they of ultimate victory, that they did not even await the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, but adopted their first constitution in December 1776. Here they declared that ‘all useful learning shall be promoted in one or more universities.’ Washington was then crossing the Delaware. When the General Assembly granted the University’s charter, it was 1789. The first Congress was meeting in New York; the Bastille was being stormed in Paris. When the cornerstone of the Old East was laid, it was 1793. Washington was issuing a proclamation of neutrality in the Franco-British wars; Louis XVI and his Queen were going to the scaffold in Paris. When the school opened in 1795, our first President was approaching retirement. Mr. John Adams, an old Massachusetts revolutionist, would soon succeed him, with Mr. Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, author of the Declaration of Independence and of the Bill for Religious Freedom, as Vice President. Born, then, of revolution and literally cradled in liberty, this University would be an unnatural child of its freedom-loving parents if it should become a creature of reaction. Yet it is precisely because the school is true to its heritage that it is bitterly attacked by certain groups within North Carolina. The assault is made upon the score that the University is ‘communistic’; and it centres upon the person of President Frank P. Graham, who, it is said, is perverting the minds of his students with ‘false doctrines.’

Dr. Graham, a former teacher of history at the University he now heads, is a genial, easily approachable man who is plain ‘Frank’ to most of his faculty and associates. A physically small man in a world plagued by the monstrous egoism of physically small men, he does not strut. There is about him nothing of the stallion in the rocking chair. This socalled communist is in appearance the personification of the small-town bourgeois; neatly clad in a blue serge suit and white, collar-attached shirt, he looks like a moderately successful business man in a medium-sized Southern town. Pleasant, gregarious, soft-spoken, and iron-willed, he derives his successes as much from force of character as from force of mind. Many of his supporters do not entirely understand him; some are mildly dubious of his objectives; but they fight for him because they trust the man’s integrity.

It is obvious that Graham would arouse sharp antagonisms. Profoundly religious in the sense that he subscribes wholeheartedly to the Christian ethos, he is rash enough to practise a sinewy Christianity and so inevitably brings trouble on his head. Thus he opposes the commercialization of athletics in a football-mad country, and speaks up boldly for collective bargaining by labor in a state dominated industrially by powerful textile and tobacco-manufacturing interests. The consequence is that the football-enthusiastic alumni (booing from the intellectual two-yard line) damn him as a killjoy visionary, while some of the mill men — but not all of them, by any means — cuss him as a communist.

No one in North Carolina (or elsewhere) denies that it is the business of a university to uphold the standard of freedom, truth, and justice. But the university president who actually does it not infrequently finds himself in trouble. Frank Graham, for example, insists that the Bill of Rights is a living body of doctrine by which free men may remain free, and, not content with this, goes on to an even greater heresy — namely, that freedom of speech means the right of all men to speak even if you do not like what they say. A passionate democrat, he clings to the notion that his students — the youth of a democracy — are not per se weak-minded because they are young and students; he believes they will be strengthened rather than weakened in their democratic convictions by rational discussions of competing political systems. (‘The reason of the law is the life of the law.’) The result of these concepts is that there is free talk at the University, as shocking as this may be to a minority of the state’s citizens who believe it is the duty of an institution of learning to clamp an intellectual ceinture de chasteté upon each of its disciples.

This is not to suggest that conversation among Chapel Hill students is Socratic, Johnsonian, or even Hemingwayish. Their bull sessions — like those at most colleges — are largely devoted to the overrated and overpublicized institutions of sex and athletics; to the failings of the faculty, and the daily happenings of the campus. They would, however, be imbeclic if at a time when life is lived on so intense a political plane, and when their own future hangs upon events at Dover and Singapore, they did not discuss politics and international affairs. They would be completely lacking in that spirit of inquiry which it is the function of a university to stimulate if they did not seek out the authorities in the books and the flesh. In the pursuit of the latter, the selfgoverning Carolina Political Union has invited to the campus such disparate personalities as Tom Girdler, Earl Browder, Senator Nye, President Roosevelt, Frank Gannett, Norman Thomas, and Senator Taft. The speakers say what they want to say, but they don’t do all the talking. The students do not swallow their doctrines in allopathic doses like little men. Every speaker, at the close of his address, is subjected to a bombardment of shrewd questions, and woe to him who isn’t nimble on his feet.

Naturally the presence of leftist orators on the campus called forth the cry of ‘radicalism’ from the University’s critics, but even the most casual examination reveals that its President is merely a liberal democrat while the overwhelming majority of the faculty range in their political opinions from conservative to reactionary. A tiny minority are leftist, and they serve, or ought to serve, the valuable function of gadflies to sting the smug out of their smugness. The University, on the whole, is about as communist as the First Baptist Church of Chalk Level. It is true that Frank Graham believes in freedom of speech, but that is guaranteed by the Constitution. It is also true that he supports labor’s right to collective bargaining, but, since that is the sense of federal laws, he is merely supporting the law. The inevitable conclusion, then, is that if the University is liberal in any leftist sense of the word, it is liberal only by comparison with other Southern schools which mentally are still deployed around the trenches of Petersburg. And if it is Graham’s dream to make his school the intellectual centre of the South, one must ask whether this is a nightmare from which he must be awakened.


Chapel Hill may have already become the intellectual centre of the South, but it is far from being an intellectual centre in the absolute sense. North Carolina, like all the Southern States, became an American colony after 1865, and it is marked by the aspects common to badly administered, sharply exploited colonies: illiteracy, disease, and poverty. It is no accident that the South, with about one fourth of the nation’s population and one half of its natural resources, drinks more corn whiskey than milk and collectively has about as many pairs of shoes as Bulgaria. Nor is it lack of ability or ambition that impedes the progress of the University of North Carolina. It is held back by poverty. Thus its bright young men are constantly being lured by wealthier schools; it struggles with the legislature for money, and the legislature, in turn, grapples with the fiscal-educational problems that tend to swamp all save the richest states; and it spreads thin its already thin resources in order to expand its staff and equipment to cope with the needs of an evergrowing student body. There are now nearly four thousand students at Chapel Hill, of whom one third come from north of the Mason-Dixon line. Here again we see the effects of poverty. The University shelters a great mass of poorly prepared Southern students who enter with only eighty-eight months of secondary-school training as compared with one hundred and twenty months enjoyed by Northern students. The latter group tend on the whole to make better grades than Southerners, not because they are natively more intelligent or more industrious, but because the superior resources of the North have enabled them to get better pre-university training.

But North Carolina is rising above its resources. Let it be noted that the eight months’ school term for all schools is a state-wide legal minimum, and is above the state-wide legal minimum of any other state of the Union. In recent years, moreover, many towns by special local tax supplements have increased the secondary-school term to one hundred and eight months, while the requirements of the University for admission and survival exert a strong pressure to raise the level of the state’s high schools. Thus, while the state and the University work to improve the high schools, Chapel Hill does not throw open its doors to the mediocre of other localities. On the contrary, it requires all outof-state students to be in the upper 50 per cent of their high-school graduating class, or to be especially distinguished for some scholastic achievement.

Some of Chapel Hill’s ablest, men have gone elsewhere in recent years. Among them are Dr. Howard M. Jones of the English faculty at Harvard; Addison Hibbard, former Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, who now holds the same position at Northwestern; George Denny, former business manager of the Carolina Playmakers, who is president of Town Hall, Inc., and founder of America’s Town Meeting of the Air; H. W. Chase, now Chancellor of New York University; Gerald Johnson, former professor of journalism, now the brilliant editorial writer of the Baltimore Sun; and R. D. W. Connor, once head of the department of history, who is the first Archivist of the United States Government.

But while able men sometimes leave Chapel Hill, others remain despite alluring offers from wealthier schools, and still others come to the University at a financial sacrifice. During the past ten years, sixty professors with offers from other schools which totaled $100,000 a year above their University of North Carolina salaries remained at Chapel Hill. Among nationally famous men at Chapel Hill are Vance and Odum in the social sciences; MacNider in medicine; Dashiell in psychology; Hurewicz in mathematics; W. C. Coker and John N. Couch in botany; R. E. Coker in zoölogy; W. T. Couch, director of the University Press, in publications; Leavitt and Pearson in Latin-American affairs; Koch in dramatic art; Cameron in chemistry; Archibald Henderson and Paul Green in literature and playwriting; Rosenau in preventive medicine; Knight and Carson Ryan in education.

The following table shows the range of salaries paid to the teaching staff by the University, and the number of men in each group: —

KeDan Professors 18 $5,000-$7,000
Professors 100 3,506- 4,208
Associate Professors 52 2,895- 3,366
Assistant Professors 42 2,103- 2,571
Instructors 46 1,200- 1,900
Part-time Instructors 24 450- 600

Many universities pay higher salaries than these. Why, then, do men remain at Chapel Hill when they could earn far more elsewhere? Why do others make financial sacrifices to come to the University? The answer is simple and complex. It can be illuminated, in part, by the story of how one man came to North Carolina.

Some years ago Frank Graham collared a distinguished teacher in Washington. He didn’t sit down for a talk with the man. He took him out for a stroll at dusk just as the town was going home from work. Hour after hour the two men walked up and down and around the streets of Washington. Hour after hour Graham talked about the limitless possibilities for education in the South, his concept of a university as a living force in the state, and his ideas for the development of Chapel Hill within the framework of complete academic freedom. At dawn — whether out of fatigue or conviction — the teacher consented to go to North Carolina for a smaller salary than he was getting elsewhere. He is still at the University.

One cannot define the quality of freedom that exists at Chapel Hill, and which is so attractive to teachers that they will give up much to enjoy it. (And it must be remembered that this freedom has been won in the South against forces of conservatism that make Calvin Coolidge look like a radical.) There is, however, an illuminating parallel in American journalism. Dozens of firstrate journalists would willingly give up their large salaries to work for less on newspapers that are really free, while others in their eagerness for personal freedom of expression are buying country journals in whose pages they can say what they think rather than what their bosses think. Intellectual workers do not mind paying what economists used to call ‘opportunity cost’ for the privilege of living in intellectual freedom. Only in the case of football has Graham been soundly licked. Here the alumni, subscribing to the communist doctrine that the end is worthy of the means, hire Hessians to play against Hessians hired by other teams. But there is no danger — as in Mississippi under former Governor (now The Man) Bilbo — that the entire medical faculty may be superseded by hoss doctors, or that barbers will take over the school of English. There is no danger that a man will be sacked for the crime of thinking in an institution dedicated to thought, or for the even greater crime of not keeping his thoughts to himself. Chapel Hill’s faculty are secure in the knowledge that they are free from vigilante pryings, that the tenure of their jobs is not dependent upon their political opinions, and that if attacked they will be defended from hell to breakfast.


At Chapel Hill, more than upon any other Southern campus, men have determined to ascertain all that could be ascertained about the South. Their labors have resulted, among other things, in the mountainous sociological studies of Howard Odum — particularly his Southern Regions and American Regionalism — and those of Rupert Vance, especially his Human Geography of the South. These works of sound scholarship, which are invaluable to students of Southern life, have acquired merited fame among the nation’s sociologists and have aroused bitter antagonisms among certain groups in North Carolina. For here one finds candid, searching, documented examinations of the state’s mills and mill villages, wages and hours in the state’s industries, life among poor whites and Negroes, and the wastage and exploitation of the state’s natural resources. It is these stingingly true studies, more perhaps than any University activity, which have caused the epithet ‘communism’ to be hurled at Chapel Hill.

The character of the attacks made upon the University may be gleaned from an address by Mr. David Clark to the Charlotte Lions Club (August 1940). As the speaker presses his charges of communism at Chapel Hill, he tosses facts and history around with the dreamy abandon of a surrealist painter. Example: —

The following summer, 1936, Graham signed a protest against allowing American athletes to participate in the Olympic games. . . . It is significant that just prior to the time Graham signed the protest, the Hitler Government had done the only good thing it ever did, which was to stop the march of communism against Europe. . . .

Speaking one year after the signing of the Hitler-Stalin pact, Mr. Clark seems never to have heard of this deal, which was obscurely noted in the headlines of all American newspapers. According to him, Hitler is fighting communism, and therefore Graham, who protested American athletes’ going to Berlin, is a communist. It is not surprising, consequently, to find that Mr. Clark’s Russian authority is Robert Ripley: ‘Robert Ripley, of Believe-ItOr-Not Fame, and whose statements have never been disproved, had visited Russia and said . .'

Even the arts are corrupt at Chapel Hill. Example: —

Bernard Shaw’s vulgarities and disloyalties to his own country made such a hit at Chapel Hill that an admiring professor decided to write a history of his life.

The ‘admiring professor’ is Archibald Henderson, professor of mathematics and long-time friend of Shaw, who has written a voluminous biography of the playwright — a man whose ‘vulgarities and disloyalties,’ believe it or not, have brought him wealth and affection in England and fame wherever men can read or go to the theatre.

Mr. Clark, master of an articulate confusion, dislikes some of the men who visit the University. Among them is Bertrand Russell. Here the speaker’s strictures form a passage of sheer Freudian delight: —

Then Bertrand Russell ... a man who openly practised immorality, was brought to the University and entertained. (Author’s italics)

Norman Thomas is dealt with thus: —

Norman Thomas is another ‘Fifth Columnist’ who was a frequent visitor to Chapel Hill. He calls himself a socialist, but when he was nominated for President the delegates waved red flags and sang ‘The International.’

This is the same Mr. Thomas, of course, whose genteel socialism wins for him every year the increasingly greater devotion of an increasingly smaller number of followers.

Charges of communism have not yet been brought against the University Press under the direction of W. T. Couch, although it is the best of its kind in the South and among the ablest in the nation. Characteristically, it operates on a shoestring. The function of a university press is to publish books which would not see the light if their publication depended upon commercial profits. But all over America faculty members, under the ‘Publish or perish’ dictum common in many schools, look upon the university press as a machine for grinding out reports of their often sterile researches. It is, of course, just as absurd for a university to require teachers to publish books as it would be for a church to require its minister to perform miracles. But it is done upon the assumption that a man who puts second-rate ideas into a third-rate book thereby becomes a first-rate instructor. And the harassed teacher, knowing that the publication of a volume not only is essential to retaining his job but is also the passport to another job, — universities here showing the pathetic faith in the printed word manifested by the illiterate, — insists that his university press bring out his book. There is no such pressure at Chapel Hill. The University does not require that the faculty write books. If they want to write them, that is their business. But it is equally the business of the Press to refuse to publish them — however much the authors may howl in the groves of Academe — unless the Press in its untrammeled opinion thinks they merit publication. The consequence of this is that all over the South — and elsewhere — men actually buy and read Press books, including those by faculty members.


Chapel Hill makes no pretense of being cosmopolitan. It strives rather for an enlightened provincialism. It is primarily concerned with Southerners and the South, and it seeks to equip men to lead useful lives in a backward empire now slowly moving into what may become the most astonishing renaissance ever seen on American soil. The task is immense. The pioneers must fell whole forests of taboos; remove jungles of inhibitions; cut through thickets of prejudices; and by precept and preachment rid the land of the feeling of inferiority which has obsessed it since Appomattox. Hence the inculcating into Southern students of an enlightened provincialism becomes of immense importance to the South and to the nation as well, and it is this task to which the University has addressed itself with energy and success.

It may strike some as astonishing that North Carolina (by comparison with allegedly more enlightened communities) has 13 per cent of the nation’s birth-control clinics (state-operated), although it has but 3 per cent of the country’s population. It may strike others as still more astonishing that for fourteen years Ernest R. Groves, in Sociology 62, has lectured to separate classes of men and women at the University on such subjects as Courtship, Choice of a Mate, Engagement, Finances, and Marital Adjustment. These things cause no eyebrow raisings in North Carolina, but an immense labor of enlightenment made them possible — a labor that is an aspect of freedom of thinking.

There are other aspects of enlightened provincialism at Chapel Hill. One of the most noted playwriting and acting groups in the country is the Carolina Play makers, directed by Frederick H. Koch. His students write and act American folk plays; but since they come from all over the land, and this country is prodigiously rich in folk material, their plays deal not alone with North Carolina mountaineers but also with Georgia Negroes, Arizona miners, Oklahoma outlaws, Ozark hillmen, and New Mexico cowboys. Associated with the University and the Playmakers is the Pulitzer prize-winning playwright, Paul Green. A native of the state and an alumnus of the University, he long ago returned to Chapel Hill to teach playwriting and to write nationally famous plays such as In Abraham’s Bosom, The House of Connelly, and Johnny Johnson. Green loves the soil from which he sprang, and, resisting the allurements of Hollywood, remains in his village to write not only plays on universal themes but also folk dramas and pageants related to persons and incidents out of the colorful history of his state. He is thus the enlightened provincial so essential to the civilization of a continent populated by heterogeneous peoples, and is the personification of the spirit of the University.

What is the scholastic standing of the University of North Carolina? It is a member of the Association of American Universities, which is made up of the thirty-odd most distinguished universities in the United States. What is its status in the field of graduate work? On the basis of a study made under the sponsorship of the American Council on Education, more departments were found at Chapel Hill qualified to give the doctor’s degree than in any other university south of Baltimore and east of the Mississippi River.

These are tangible achievements which are measurable by experts in the field of education. The intangible achievements of the University are perhaps greater. They lie in an unremitting and successful struggle for academic freedom in an area where the weight of lethargy, as well as the dynamics of industrial opposition and inherited prejudices, operates against academic freedom. They consist in teaching students the truth about the South even when the truth hurts. They are composed of precepts and standards which have made the name of Chapel Hill respected throughout the nation, and which more than once have caused men’s eyes to turn toward the South in delighted surprise.