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University of North Carolina Walking Tour
Item 5 of 24
While this academic building of UNC Chapel Hill now houses the School of Information and Library Science, it was also once the site of a makeshift dining hall during the UNC Foodworkers' Strike of 1969. After 17 Pine Room dining hall workers demanded fair labor practices from the UNC administration and saw no results, they went on strike, refusing to serve food in the Pine Room and gaining support from workers in Lenoir Dining Hall as well. However, a fund was organized through donated funds from students in support of the strike, sustained by the foodworkers’ partnership with the Black Student Movement, to pay foodworkers to serve food that they cooked themselves to students in Manning Hall. They affectionately named this alternative dining area the Soul Food cafeteria.

  • Newspaper clipping from the Charlotte Observer recounting the events of the strike on February 23, 1969.
  • Newspaper headline from The Daily Tarheel on March 14, 1969, announcing the closing of Manning Hall and its Soul Food cafeteria. Governor Bob Scott ordered state troopers to assist in the evacuation of protesters and foodworkers.
  • Picture in the March 14, 1969, edition of The Daily Tarheel capturing the state troopers, ordered by Governor Bob Scott, who helped with the evacuation of Manning Hall.

During the 1960s, UNC Chapel Hill was slowly taking actions towards integration. The first black undergraduate students had been admitted in 1955, yet still only composed less than 1% of the student population by 1967. The university had only seen its first black professor appointed in 1966, while nearly 100% of all non-academic workers were black. Such blatantly discriminatory practices by the university led black students on campus to form the Black Student Movement in 1967, founded by student Preston Dobbins, as a way of declaring their presence on campus while also providing themselves with a unifying voice against unequal treatment.

The UNC Foodworkers’ Strike of 1969 was a collaborative movement between the foodworkers’ and the Black Student Movement on campus to demand fair labor practices. Under the food service director at the time, George Prillaman, workers were denied adequate payment, job descriptions and titles, the ability to move to a full-time position with benefits, and other oppressive employment practices. After attempting to speak with their supervisor, Ottis White, which was often met with the threat of being fired, the foodworkers sent a memorandum in October of 1968 to the “Employers of Lenoir Dining Hall” of 21 possible improvements to the current labor practices. Later that month, Prillaman cited a severe drought, which curtailed dishwashing, as reason to lay off ten employees. With the fear that all who spoke out would simply be laid off, the foodworkers reached out to the Black Student Movement to garner support, organization, and guidance as they began their fight for fair treatment. After months of unsuccessful meetings with administration, the foodworkers planned a peaceful protest. On February 23, 1969, the foodworkers of Lenoir Dining Hall set up their counters as usual, however, when supervisor Mr. White opened the doors to let students in, the foodworkers all sat down at the tables of the dining hall and announced that they were striking.

Manning Hall had been UNC Chapel Hill’s Law School up until 1968, when the Law School was then moved into Van Hecke-Wettach Hall. Therefore, in 1969, Manning Hall, located close to Lenoir Dining Hall, was vacant and served as the ideal place for members of the Black Student Movement and the foodworkers’ to discuss their plans. When the foodworkers’ ultimately decided to go on strike, the vacancy of Manning Hall was again proved useful for their cause and became a makeshift dining hall, called the Soul Food cafeteria. Foodworkers cooked the food themselves and brought it to Manning to serve during normal dining hall hours. The BSM encouraged students to boycott Lenoir Dining Hall and eat in Manning instead, in support of the foodworkers. They also asked for donations to pay the foodworkers for their work and allow them to strike for as long as necessary. Manning Hall provided a safe space for members of the BSM and striking foodworkers during these times of unrest, while also functioning as a physical representation of resistance against the unfair labor practices in Lenoir Dining Hall. BSM leader, Ashley Davis, in an interview recalls, "While we were having the strikes, there was a building right next to Lenoir Hall and people were going into this building to sit around and rest. This building was Manning Hall, which was the old Law School, and people would go into what was the old main law library in there and sit around and rest and someone got na idea. Why not us open up a cafeteria? A soul food cafeteria. So what happened was that the workers got together and people donated money and everything and the workers cooked food at home or at the Baptist Student Union and all would bring all their food their for lunch and bring all their food there for dinner and serve two meals a day." (1)

However, the peaceful protest witnessed violence less than a month later when on March 4, 1969, members of the BSM marched into Lenoir and overturned tables. To the Governor of North Carolina at the time, Bob Scott, this was the final straw. Governor Scott called in state troopers to remove the strikers and students from the Manning hall Soul Food Cafeteria and Lenoir Dining Hall. While the Soul Food cafeteria was shut down, Manning still served as a meeting place for strikers and students until the strike ended on March 21, 1969, and during the time leading up to a second strike on December 9, 1969.
"Ashley Davis: E-0062." Interview by Russ Rymer. 12 Apr. 1974. Southern Oral History Program. Web. June 2017.

"Daily Tarheel Clipping-Manning Hall," in the Daniel H. Pollitt Papers #5498, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.