Why I got arrested: Q&A with Jacquelyn Hall

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Jacquelyn Hall, who has taught history at UNC for almost 40 years, was one of more than 150 protestors arrested at the N.C. General Assembly over the past month.

After a fourth straight week of civil disobedience protests at the N.C. General Assembly Monday, the arrest total for the “Moral Monday” demonstrations rose to more than 150.

Among them earlier this month was UNC history professor Jacquelyn Hall, who spoke with State & National editor Sarah Brown about the historical and personal motivations that led to her risking arrest.

Daily Tar Heel: You said that North Carolina, historically, has been a more progressive state than it is now. Can you elaborate on that?

Jacqueline Hall: One of the reasons I engaged in civil disobedience and went to Raleigh was as a historian, as somebody who has spent her life studying this state and living in it.

North Carolina historically was a very poor state, before the Civil War. Starting in the early 20th century, when education reform and progressivism came into play, North Carolina started really standing out among the Southern states in providing social services and so on.

In the 1960s, (former Gov.) Terry Sanford .. .put North Carolina into the ranks of moderate Southern states that really started stepping forward, not just in accommodating itself to integration, but also in throwing off the shackles that had kept this state from developing economically.

DTH: How does the state’s political climate today compare to the past?

JH: In the 1960s and 1970s we had moderate Democratic governors, who had their differences with the Republicans, but they also were forward looking in these same progressive ways.

This is not your grandfather’s Republican Party that we’ve got now. It’s a story of the takeover of the Republican Party by a certain faction within the party that has just purged it of its moderate wing.

That faction has seen the South as a good place to try to dominate state politics and use that platform to shore up its strength in Washington.

DTH: What about the evolution of higher education in North Carolina?

JH: People think that public education has always been with us. But that’s not true at all.

In the 1920s and 1930s, North Carolina was the only state in the South that had a major research university that really had a national reputation…that was right here.

Then you had these veterans who came back from (World War II), these greatest generation veterans like Bill Friday and Terry Sanford…wanting to bring North Carolina into the modern world. One of the ways they saw of doing that was building a strong public system of higher education.

DTH: How is the state’s higher education faring today, in your opinion?

JH: The draconian cuts to public higher education are one of the many things that the state legislature is doing that’s harmful to the state.

There have been dozens of bills. I don’t know if there’s ever been a point in state history where this many bills have been passed this fast, often late at night, often surprise bills, often in secret so that people don’t have time to really consider them.

I don’t see the universities as being especially singled out for victimization, but I see the undermining of this system as one of the worst long-term effects of what’s happening now.

DTH: Do you think protests are an effective way of making a political point?

JH: I definitely think it’s an effective way. Now, I don’t think it always is, and I didn’t do this lightly. But there’s a huge amount of evidence that in this particular case, these legislators are not open to reason and discourse and communication.

We hope that the people in the state legislature will listen to what we’re saying and think, “Well, gosh, if this many people are willing to take these risks, maybe we should rethink.”

But, even if they don’t, our hope is that other citizens will say to themselves, “Why are these people doing this?” Then they’ll educate themselves and make up their own minds as to whether what’s going on is good for them and for this state.

DTH: Were you planning to get arrested?

JH: We were not planning to get arrested.

We intended that if ordered to leave (by the police), we did not plan to leave. We hoped that we would be allowed to stay and to hold up our signs and make our speeches and to protest in a peaceful way. But we were not allowed to do that.

DTH: What was the actual arrest like?

JH: I think we were singled out because we held up signs. I don’t know on what grounds they can confiscate signs.

I’m a very law-abiding citizen, and I deeply believe in the rule of law. But I also believe that many, many times in history, it has been necessary for people to say, “This may be a law in the books, but my conscience tells me not to obey this law.” That’s why we had the Civil Rights movement in the South.

Whatever the ordinance is against holding up a sign, I believe that, if I’m going to disobey that ordinance, I’ll have to take the consequences and be arrested. Which I was.

DTH: How do you see the “Moral Monday” protest growing? Will you go back to Raleigh?

JH: I think it will grow. I’ll be very surprised if there aren’t significantly more people next Monday than there were this past week.

I intend to keep going back as long as the protests continue.

Thanks for reading.

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