UNC honors 'Black Pioneers' who broke down barriers for generations of students

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Students and staff at the University of North Carolina are very diverse in 2021, but that wasn't the case for many generations, until alumni known as the Black Pioneers broke the color line on campus.

On Sunday, the group gathered to salute those whose presence on campus led to major changes.

"None of us, during those days, could imagine what has come to pass now. And the fact that we are the pioneers who opened those doors is a source of great satisfaction and pride, to all of us," said Walter Jackson, UNC Class of 1967.

Edith Hubbard, Class of 1966, is one of those pioneers who read the names of others who did not live to see this day.

"In those days it was very rare to see another Black student on campus. During most of my time at Carolina there were no Black faculty members, no Black athletes. No Black employees on student stores or any of the campus offices," said Jackson.

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz presented the Black Pioneer award to attorney David Dansby, the first African-American recipient of an undergraduate degree from UNC. Dansby's remarks referenced civil disobedience during his time on campus that helped break the color line in Chapel Hill.

"We got in trouble, decided I wanted to picket the Colonial Drugstore down Franklin Street for not allowing Blacks to sit at the lunch counter.. I wanted to join," said Dansby.

Now that can be hard to get your head around, when you consider how Chapel Hill looks today.

The Colonial Drugstore closed years ago, but today a marker with photos of news coverage of the demonstration is installed in front of the building.

Karen Parker, the first African American woman to earn an undergraduate degree at UNC in 1965, led the Sunday afternoon ceremony.

The students of 2021 stand on the shoulders of those whose presence opened the campus to everyone.

"As one of the first African-American students at Carolina, it's overwhelming to me to think about all those who came before me and honor those who are departed," said Jackson.
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