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How Tar Heels Football Helped the Forgotten Protest at UNC

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On Saturday, the North Carolina football team will travel to Greensboro to face Clemson in pursuit of their sixth conference title.

While many don’t associate the Tar Heels with football considering their illustrious history on the hardwood, one former player is keeping a close watch on both the team and coach Mack Brown.

John Bradley, a UNC linebacker from 1991-1994, played under Coach Brown and is looking forward to seeing the program’s continued progress.

“It feels great seeing the Tarheel football program have so much success,” he said. “The ACC has historically been viewed as a basketball school. UNC has put a lot of investment and energy into building state-of-the-art athletic facilities, programming and hiring very talented coaches and support staff. Several of the staff were players during my time at UNC and their efforts during the offseason and recruiting is paying off. I’m excited about the ACC title game and know that Coach Brown will have the team prepared for this big stage.”

While Bradley didn’t win any bowl games during his tenure, he and teammates Malcolm Marshall, Jimmy Hancock, and Timothy Smith left an indelible mark on the campus through their participation in a local student protest that garnered national attention.

A movement that is, unfortunately, largely unknown and/or forgotten.

The year was 1992, Bradley’s sophomore year and a year that marked a turning point in American politics and culture.

That year’s presidential election saw younger voters, later referred to as Generation X, become a critical voting bloc.

The smell of teen spirit filled the airwaves and the hardcore sounds of artists like Ice Cube, Ice T, and Public Enemy opened mainstream America’s eyes to untreated racial inequities that would be magnified by that summer’s rebellion in Los Angeles after four white police officers were acquitted in beating Rodney King. 

It was a year that turned the world on its head.

Chapel Hill and the Turmoil Of 1992

In the midst of this turmoil was a growing student movement on the campus of Chapel Hill that perfectly fit the sensibilities of the time.

Black students organized and advocated for the construction of a free-standing Black cultural center on campus that would provide students with a space to appreciate and learn about black history and culture. It was to be named in honor of famed Black studies scholar Dr. Sonja Haynes Stone, the director of the Afro-American studies program at UNC from 1974-1979.

From the beginning, tension existed between the students and the administration, led by Chancellor Paul Hardin III.

Students wanted a free-standing cultural center that operated on its own rules and regulations. The administration, with certain exceptions, supported the construction of the center but wanted it to be confined next to the snack area in the Student Union.

But after university trustee member John Pope was quoted saying “it seems to me if (black students) are interested in a Black Cultural Center, maybe those students should attend a black university,” things escalated.

Pope’s racist comment ignited the movement and helped attract numbers of student activists not seen since the Vietnam War.

From that point on, the invigorated students were relentless in pursuit of their mission. They issued three specific demands to Chancellor Hardin which included the aforementioned cultural center, higher wages for UNC’s housekeepers, and an endowed professorship named after Dr. Haynes Stone, who passed away in 1991.

Continue reading over at First and Pen.

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