Saturday will mark the 50th anniversary of Charles Scott’s acceptance to UNC. Scott was the first black athlete to receive a scholarship at the University.
Well-intentioned events in his name were scheduled in recognition of this anniversary, but this came as a surprise to Scott. He caught wind of the news from his daughter just two weeks ago.
William Thorpe Jr., the son of long-time Chapel Hill Town Council member William Henry Thorpe, initiated the process of commemorating Scott’s achievements.
Thorpe wanted “Charlie Scott Day” to coincide with his efforts in promoting healthy living in the community. Both he and Bob Gersten, who, at 95 years of age is UNC’s oldest living basketball and baseball player, have hosted community walking events to promote their cause since 2014.
Thorpe, despite reaching out to sources, failed to consult with Charles Scott before submitting a proclamation to name a day after him, while simultaneously using his name for his fundraising event.
"I went to the athletic department, the Chancellor’s office, even people throughout the community. I also tried Richard Gersten, Bobby’s son. I tried Google, tried to find his number and his email, but that’s when I asked the Laurinburg board," Thorpe said.
The Laurinburg Institute, Charles Scott’s old high school, instructed Thorpe to write a formal letter requesting Scott's participation, along with a poster and information about the event.
According to Thorpe, the institute also warned him not to use Scott’s name and to stick to the original concept of the 50th anniversary of the historic enrollment.
Thorpe later said the event wasn’t about Scott, but about racial barriers being broken. He said the person who achieved the goal and the goal itself are inseparable, but the barrier that was broken is the real focus of the day.
This aside, Thorpe thought Scott would be pleased to hear his name was being used for a good cause.
“I thought it was something that would be a no-brainer for Charles, but since he felt that way I didn't want to antagonize him, and told him we would remove all associations, and it would only be about healthy long living," Thorpe said.
Earlier in March, Thorpe presented a proclamation to Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger, who welcomed the idea of honoring Scott. But it came as a surprise to her that Scott had not been contacted during this process.
“The assumption was that Mr. Scott was involved in all these decisions and that UNC was supportive of all this,” Hemminger said.
Hemminger said Thorpe didn't make sure he had the support he needed to create the holiday, and that using someone's name without their permission should never be done.
“He also tagged into the UNC website so it looks like he had their blessing which he did not. It’s just a matter of someone taking shortcuts," she said.
Charles Scott, though honored by the town’s proclamation, was frustrated when he heard his name was being used without any consultation, for a cause he knew nothing about.
“The circumstances where the opposition came in is the fact that A: I knew nothing about it, B: when you say you have a bunch of events and you're collecting money for a foundation that I have no knowledge of, if something goes wrong, that makes it seem like something I authorized and am a part of. I can’t back something without knowing anything," Scott said.
“The fact of the matter is that the day they were planning having it, I am going to be up in Boston, Massachusetts. These circumstances were really unrealistic and I found out about it two weeks ago."
Hemminger said the Chapel Hill Town Council has asked Scott to let them know when is best to honor his name with a formal proclamation. Scott said he would like to send his son, but has not replied back on a date to receive the commemoration.
“I think he wants to let it all calm down a little bit,” Hemminger said.
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