When she arrived in Chapel Hill to teach social work in 1966, Hortense McClinton was welcomed as the first black professor at UNC.
She remembered one student saying, “the School of Social Work is on the ball,” when she taught her first class.
But off campus, McClinton confronted a different dynamic.
Several stores on Franklin Street rejected black patrons. At the State Employees’ Credit Union, employees automatically assumed that, as a black woman, she wanted to borrow money. After informing them of her intentions to deposit money instead, they gave her questioning looks.
And as she told a crowd of about 40 people at the Tate-Turner-Kuralt Building on Tuesday, racial discrimination persists today.
“I don’t want to be a pessimist, but I think the struggle still goes on,” she said.
McClinton spoke Tuesday as part of the Parr Center for Ethics’ Lunch and Learn program. Before a packed room, she shared her story along with her insights on ethical dilemmas, racism, and affirmative action.
Jennie Dickson, the center’s program coordinator, said she was delighted McClinton approached the school about coming to speak at UNC.
“The topics of affirmative action and racism affect everyone in the school,” she said.
McClinton started the talk on a lighter note before delving into the more serious aspects of her experience.
“First of all, I’m 92 years old, so if I get to wandering let me know,” she said.
McClinton said she realized she wanted to be a social worker in the eighth grade after listening to a guest speaker at school.
“You don’t have money; you can’t do that,” her teachers told her.
She said her love of people helped her overcome those mental obstacles on her way to earning a masters of social work at the University of Pennsylvania.
Though her hiring came 11 years after the University first enrolled black undergraduate students, McClinton said she felt comfortable at UNC.
It would be three years before UNC hired another black faculty member.
She said students’ reactions were generally positive when they found out they would be taught by a black professor.
McClinton added that she tried to play down her status as the University’s first black professor.
“I didn’t want a big fuss,” she said.
McClinton advised students to be active in the fight for social equality and to be prepared to stand for the things they believe in.
“Stand up for what you think is right,” she said. “Keep pushing for the larger issue.”
Freshman Ashlyn Sanders, who heard about the talk in her African American literature class, said she was inspired by her professor to attend the discussion.
“It was a wonderful event,” she said.
“I loved her advice for standing up in what you believe in.”
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