1960s NCSU Aerial View

NCSU Aerial View, 1969

North Carolina State University has a familiar history. It was founded in 1887 as a small land-grant university in rural North Carolina. Located about a mile away from the sleepy political town of Raleigh, North Carolina, its curriculum was dedicated to the agricultural and mechanical arts. As time progressed, both the university and North Carolina's capital grew and gained influence throughout the state.

This narrative is largely correct, but fails to place NC State within a cultural and spatial context. North Carolina State University did not exist in a vacuum. It was simply one entity among many that, when combined, formed a community. Often overlooked in the NC State founding story is its physical location and its neighboring communities. Several small independent black villages surrounded NC State at its inception: Oberlin Village to the north, Method to the west, and Nazareth directly south.[1] From the 1880s to the 1950s, NC State was an all-white campus adjacent to several black neighborhoods.

Therefore, Raleighites and NC State students carefully and cautiously navigated the streets bordering the NC State campus on strict racial terms. Whites claimed the campus and its main thoroughfares, such as Hillsborough Street, as white centers of education, relaxation, and commerce. Consequently, nearby black families generally stayed within their own self-sustaining villages or traveled to black business districts in downtown Raleigh. Blacks saw NC State as off-limits---a space only available for their menial employment, not their education. Though next-door neighbors, black and whites lived in completely different environments and moved differently in a given space.

With such stark physical and psychological divides, the NC State campus and its surrounding communities were extreme examples of racialized space. In yet, when NC State officially integrated its campus in 1953, there was no great uproar, no great contestation of space. For much of the 1950s and early 1960s, blacks cautiously moved through campus, attended classes, and quietly left. However, an influx of black NC State students and faculty in the mid-1960s meant a severe change in campus and community environments. Black students and faculty demanded the right to own and move through space despite an immense off-campus housing crisis. Simultaneously, blacks in Raleigh's condensed Eastside/South Park neighborhood insisted upon equal representation and participation in the city planning process. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, NC State, the surrounding communities, and downtown Raleigh experienced an arduous redistribution of physical space. 

NC State Chancellor John T. Caldwell recognized the critical nature of NC State's community integration process. He understood that further integration would mean a collaborative effort of campus and city officials. Therefore, Chancellor Caldwell established the Good Neighbor Council in 1967.  Like its state-wide prototype, the Good Neighbor Council was comprised of a changing group sixteen NC State students and faculty. The GNC met monthly, addressing instances of racial and cultural discrimination on or near the NC State campus.

The Good Neighbor Council aided the NC State integration process in the 1960s and 1970s by expanding upon simple conceptions of personal and physical space. By realizing the powerful relational nature of space, the GNC effected racial change through the promotion of inter-community dialogues. 


[1] Linda Simmons-Henry and Linda Harris Edminsten, Culture Town: Life in Raleigh’s African American Communities, (Raleigh, NC: Raleigh Historic Districts Commission, 1993).