Crossing the Color Line: On Their Own Terms, 1972-1981

In 1972, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) sued the federal Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) for neglecting the enforcement of desegregation in higher education.  Judge John Pratt in Adams v Richardson wrote that HEW allowed North Carolina as well as nine other states to continue receiving federal funds despite the state’s violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. According to this federal legislation, government agencies that received federal funds are banned from discriminating based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

After almost a decade of negotiations with HEW, in 1981 North Carolina became the last state without an approved desegregation plan for higher education as state officials resisted HEW’s efforts to eliminate degree program duplication in the state’s colleges and universities. The UNC system, the single coordinating board of the state’s 16 public institutions of higher education, attempted to reframe the desegregation issue as a state’s right to govern its own academic institutions. Taking the focus off race, this colorblind defense disregarded the history of discrimination that created inequalities between historically black and white institutions.

Crossing the Color Line: On Their Own Terms, 1972-1981 examines the UNC system, which included North Carolina State University, response to efforts made by the federal Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) to desegregating higher education.

HEW’s attempts to eliminate duplicate degree programs in the state’s colleges and universities were met with resistance. North Carolina was the last state to get an approved desegregation plan because officials of the UNC system felt that HEW was violating their right to control their own academic institutions.

This exhibit contains oral interviews produced by The Southern Oral History Program.

Visit other Exhibits in Crossing the Color Line.


Amanda Smith