Free tuition to UNC for Chapel Hill students descending from slaves, educator proposes

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Imagine UNC Chapel Hill funding an academic program for K-12 Chapel Hill-Carrboro public school students who are descendants of slaves.

And then, once they complete that program, the university pays for their college tuition.

That is the policy Danita Mason-Hogans is proposing.

Mason-Hogans is an educator at Duke University but also serves on UNC's Commission on History, Race and Way Forward board.

Mason-Hogans, a descendant of slaves in Chapel Hill dating back seven generations, said it's time the university reconcile its past with descendants, who face ongoing economic and educational disparities in Chapel-Hill.

"I am tired as an educator watching so much talent go undeveloped. I am tired of listening to all these excuses as to why these black children are failing instead of being really committed to having some community-based solutions to children's educational needs," Mason-Hogans said.

According to the Census, Black people make up 10 percent of Chapel Hill's population, but account for nearly 37 percent of those living in poverty.

Chapel Hill-City Carrboro public schools also has the second largest achievement gap between white and Black students.

"We have never caught up when it comes to these academic deficiencies," Mason-Hogans said. "In a town that has so much wealth and so many resources this is a great opportunity now that we're talking about how black lives matter. When we're talking about the prison industrial complex, that starts in the 3rd grade. Those gaps have persisted for generations."

Mason-Hogans believes UNC has the money available to support her idea. "The university gave $2.5 million dollars to the Sons of the Confederacy. Surely we can use that money to invest as a start for an educational program to make up for the educational deficit that was rooted in enslavement and continues to this day," Mason-Hogans said.

In 2019, the University reached a deal just before Thanksgiving 2019 to giving the Silent Sam statue to the Sons of Confederate Veterans with a $2.5 million dollar trust to take care of things related to the monument. A judge later struck down that agreement.
ABC 11 asked Mason-Hogans, if the policy is approved, how will Black people in Chapel Hill be able to trace their lineage to slaves working for UNC.

"I see three pathways forward for people who want to trace their lineage. First are our names. I'm a Mason, a Nunn, and an Edwards and all of these last names are tied to University founders. There's other names like Mitchell and Caldwell and Battle. Who are direct descendants of those who maintained and built the University," Mason-Hogans said.

"The second pathway is actually exciting to me because it incorporates the work of students. We already know the UNC Archaeological Department has students that are invested in finding out who these descendants are and what their lineage might be. The academic pursuit is exciting to me because that way we can train other young people to uncover this history and explore in that way. Third, and I believe my favorite way is by local lore. We in the Black community have always had tracers. We've always had people in our community that could trace families back for generations. The challenge is these people have not always been celebrated in terms of scholarly content."

Mason-Hogans said she has received positive feedback from some members of the commission. The commission consists of scholars, community members and UNC staff and students. If the commission approves the concept, Mason-Hogans said it could go to the UNC System Board of Governors for approval.

UNC Chapel Hill's Media Relations Manager Carly Miller released the following statement:

"The Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward's charge - to reckon with the past in order to move Carolina forward - is vitally important as the University aligns its actions with its aspirations to be a fully inclusive campus community. Chancellor Guskiewicz fully supports the commission's important work, and he looks forward to engaging its members and receiving its recommendations."
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