by Charly Mann
While Chapel Hill has a reputation for being a progressive and liberal place, it was not long ago when slaves were a fundamental part of the town and University. Many of the town's building including The Chapel of the Cross were built with slave labor. Also many students had their personal slaves with them while attending the University.
Twenty-Dollar Reward. 1839
Ran off from the university, on the night of the 20th instant, a negro man by the names of JAMES, who has for the last four years attended at Chapel Hill in the capacity of a college servant. He is of dark complexion, in stature five feet six or eight inches high, and compactly constructed; speaks quick and with ease, and has the habit of shaking his head in conversation. He is of doubtless well dressed, and has a considerable quantity of clothing. He is presumed that he will make for Norfolk or Richmond with the view of taking passage for some of the free states, or of going on and associating himself with the Colonization Society. It is supposed that he has with him a horse of the following description: a sorrel roan, four feet six or seven inches high, hind feet white, with a very long tail, which where it joins the body it white of flax colour. A premium of twenty dollars will be given for the apprehension of said slave. The subscriber would request any one who may apprehend the boy to direct their communication to Chapel Hill.
In 1790 there were 2060 slaves living in and around Chapel Hill. By 1860 fully one third of the population of Orange County were slaves. In Chapel Hill most slaves did household work or labored in carpentry and construction. The University also had slaves as cooks and maintenance workers.
On the positive side, almost a quarter of a century before the Civil War, on October 22, 1834, the largest student group at UNC, the Dialectic Society, said that slavery should be abolished. Three years later, on March 11, 1937, they even proclaimed that the slave-holding states of the South should not secede from the Union.
A fascinating fact of North Carolina history is that even when slavery was legal there was a sizable free black population in the state. More than 20,000 of the free blacks even had the right to vote until 1835.
UNC Students in 1876 with black servant sitting in front
By 1876 slavery was illegal. Students now had "Negro servants" who did exactly the same work as student slaves had done before the Civil War.Comment
What is it that binds us to this place as to no other? It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls. or the crisp October nights. No, our love for this place is based upon the fact that it is as it was meant to be, The University of the People.