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The Daily Tar Heel

Charles Scott, UNC’s first Black basketball player, talks Folt and Silent Sam with us

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Former UNC guard Charlie Scott stands next to Dean Smith. Photo courtesy of UNC Department of Athletics.

On Tuesday, The Daily Tar Heel spoke with Charles Scott, the first Black men's basketball player to integrate the sport at the University, regarding Scott's thoughts on Silent Sam and the decision of the UNC-system Board of Governors to push Chancellor Carol Folt's resignation forward to Jan. 31, 2019.

The Daily Tar Heel: I would like to hear your general thoughts on the events that have transpired regarding Silent Sam and Carol Folt?

Charles Scott: To be honest with you, in September at my Hall of Fame enshrinement, I made a speech about how I was very proud to be a Tar Heel. Today, I don’t feel that way. I understand the authority that the Board of Governors have, I understand the right to do what they have done. I do not question anything that they have done, other than the manner that it was done. I think Chancellor Folt looked out and her interests have always been the University and the student body and the character and the integrity of the student body and I think that was her main interest in what she’s done and I think the response has been a little vindictive and pettiness to her. And that disappoints me. The University of North Carolina in the whole system is the crown jewel and I think too many times we use, and when I say we I mean the University itself, use the character and the moral fortitude of Coach Smith to kind of give us a picture of what the University is about. But I don’t think today they can use Coach Smith’s moral character as the way the board responded to Ms. Folt. 

And I think that the student body should really take a look and understand the stance she took for them. I’m very proud to say I’m a friend of hers and I think that the stance she took for the student body is courageous and just as important as the stand that I took when I went to the University of North Carolina. She took a stand on character and she took a stand on integrity and she took a stand on what she believed was right. And the response that she got from the Board of Governors I thought was anger. 

DTH: So would you say the way that Chancellor Folt has been treated and the response from the Board of Governors, that is what specifically inspired you to speak today?

CS: The way she’s been treated because I know that her heart was for the University. The thing I saw in Chancellor Folt was her love and desire to make the University the best it could be and the best circumstance in the spirit of Coach Smith. That is what I recognize in her that made me so proud to be a friend of hers and made me so proud to do what I could to help the University because I knew that her direction was one that Coach Smith would be very proud to say he was a part of. And now that has been stymied and really plucked out and I’m very disappointed. 

DTH: So you talked about Coach Smith. Coach Smith did so many things when he was here in so many different ways. How do you feel Dean Smith specifically paved the way as a moral compass for the University?

CS: I think he’s paved the way so widely in the whole state. He did it through integration, his moral compass was very fair. He did it through the death penalty. He understood integration. People forget that Coach Smith’s father, back in 1935, had a Black person on his basketball team in Kansas. So Coach Smith’s moral fortitude came from his own character and his character permeated to the University and we all became very proud to associate ourselves with Coach Smith’s moral character because he never changed. He stood straight and he was always a person that you could always depend on to be honest and fair and that’s all we can ask of people — honesty and fairness and kindness. I think he showed us all and the University of North Carolina used those characteristics to permeate what they were about as a University. It’s grown because of that and we all have gained from it and I think today, we all lost a little bit of it. 

DTH: When you were here or even after you graduated and left the school, did you ever talk to Dean Smith regarding his thoughts on Silent Sam?

CS: You didn’t have to talk to Coach Smith about his thoughts on Silent Sam because you knew his thoughts on integration, you knew his thoughts on moral standards. Again, Coach Smith’s thoughts on Silent Sam in 1960 would not have gotten that statue removed, no matter what. You’re still in the 1960s at that time, and the 70s and the 80s. To show you, this is 2019 and look at the response of removing it now, what it has done. So to try to say what his stance would be I think would be putting too much of a burden on how he would react because he would do as much at the time as he was allowed to do at that time to make a stand against what Silent Sam seemed to be saying to the rest of the student body — and I’m talking about to Blacks and other races on campus. 

DTH: When you were here as a student, you paved the way for so many people with your bravery. What were your thoughts on the statue when you were here as a student? Was it much of a spectacle in the way that it is today?

CS: Understand this: every game that we played when I was a student, "Dixie" was played and Coach Smith all the time at home games, we would have the opportunity to go back to the locker so I would not have to deal with it from that standpoint. Those things were there. I knew those circumstances were there but my responsibility was to show that they were not the true essence of the University of North Carolina was going to be about. They were the past of the University of North Carolina. Coach Smith was the future of the University of North Carolina and what the University of North Carolina is now. 

So when I was there, they were there. I knew they were there. I knew the statue was there, but to be perfectly honest, I never went past that part of the campus too much. So if I walked by it, I knew what it stood for, I didn’t like it but at that time and period there was nothing I could do about it but go on and try to be the best individual I could be to show that what that statue might stand for was not truism or what I was about or what they said integration would be about. 

DTH: When you were here, was there controversy the way there is today surrounding the statue at the University?

CS: You have to understand, when I was there, we just started the Black Student Movement union with Ben Ruffin. So before we could get to the statue, we had to deal with people who had real-life problems like cafeteria workers. The main agenda of the students that were at the school during that time were to make conditions better for each of us and for others. Dealing with monuments was way down the line on our side. We wanted to deal with the problems that were facing people that were on campus at that time because campus wasn’t as free as it is now for everyone. And when I mean free, I mean the spirit of freedom for everyone. I think we dealt with other circumstances than statues at that time. We knew it was there, but why deal with a statue when we were dealing with the problems of cafeteria workers who were not being paid a fair amount or dealing with the problems Black students had at the University? Those were more prevalent at that time than monuments.

DTH: What are your views, then, on the athletes at the University, former and current, speaking out through signing petitions and penning letters?

CS: I think each person has to check his own moral standards. Each person has to check his moral standards. Like I said, I don’t speak out much on anything at the University because I understand that I’m not in the state of North Carolina, work over in the state of North Carolina. I have not participated in it for a long time. But I do consider myself a Tar Heel. I do take great pride in being a Tar Heel and I do all I can with the University to help build any of the structures that I can and be involved with anything I can to help the University on its path to be the best University it can be. So therefore, I feel good about being part of my University and the growth it has made. 

But I think each person and each athlete, Coach Smith always told us, 'We have a chance to make an impact on life and we should not let that go by. If you have the opportunity to make an impact on life, positive, you should not let it go by.' I think that what Ms. Folt has done has been something that has been a positive impact on the University of North Carolina and I appreciate what she’s done and the sacrifice that she’s made because people have to understand, like I said, when she did what she did she knew what the results were going to be. She wasn’t getting any gratitude from it. She did it because she thought it was the morally correct thing to do. That’s what Coach Smith was about. 

DTH: So you absolutely feel Coach Smith would have been proud by Chancellor Folt’s actions, correct?

CS: He would walk out with her on the day that she walked out. I would be positive of the same thing. 

DTH: Moving forward, what kind of response would you like to see from the University, from the Board of Governors, that can salvage what has happened?

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CS: I say it again. I don’t expect that I have any impact on the Board of Governors. What I hope is that the students, the faculty, the Board of Trustees, the people at the University, really look at how we handle the situation and ask, ‘Did we handle it in a way of class and the way that we always talk, or did we handle it very petty, very vindictive and is that how we want to be seen as a University?' 

DTH: I would love to hear any closing thoughts that you have.

CS: I have a son and a daughter that graduated the University of North Carolina and nothing has been more important to me in my life than my relationship with the people at the University of North Carolina. The people that I’ve come in contact with and the people that I know. And I know for a fact all the people that I have come in contact with throughout my life at the University of North Carolina are people that are good people with a good heart and a good spirit and good moral standards. 

I don’t think what has happened today backed up all the people that I met through my lifetime because none of them, and I’ve met a lot of people from the University of North Carolina, have ever shown me any sign of vindictiveness or bitterness toward the goal of making the University a place that has a moral standard that we all would be proud of — Black, white, Jews. Anybody would be proud to say they went to the University of North Carolina because there we have a moral standard that we should be the leaders of society — not the followers.


@DTHSports |