He said the night he was killed, Cates was attending an all-night dance marathon hosted by an African American student group and the Student Union. At about 2 a.m., a fight broke out between a group of students attending the dance and the Storm Troopers — a white supremacist biker gang that arrived uninvited.
Ogle said large, scattered fights took place around the Pit. In the midst of the chaos, Cates was stabbed twice. He fell to the bricks, bleeding profusely. The police allowed the Storm Troopers to leave, failing to take Cates to the hospital in a timely manner.
“Police let James Cates die — there’s really no way around it,” Ogle said.
In stark contrast, Ogle said, a white female summer school student was murdered five years earlier in the campus arboretum by a suspected Black male. Following the murder, the FBI was called in — bringing in a blood hound and collecting evidence from the crime scene. When no murder weapon was found, the police had hundreds of UNC students comb the arboretum.
“It’s a phenomenon that continues today," Ogle said. "We make choices about whom to notice, whom to remember and whom to forget. Mr. Cates’ murder amounted to a lynching after the fact.”
The case of Cates’ murder was tried by an all-white jury that found none of the bikers guilty. After the trial had passed, the story of Cates and his death was quickly erased from the memory of the white community, Ogle said.
“As I began asking around, I quickly found that while people from the Black community knew well of the murder — among people from the white people here — nearly no one did,” Ogle said. “Often white people I talked to would respond, ‘I’ve never heard of that murder, but do you know about the one in the arboretum?’”
Minister Robert Campbell, a longtime Chapel Hill resident and former president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, is one individual who has not forgotten Cates.
“James was not just only my neighbor," Cambell said. "He was one of my best friends."
He said talking about Cates’ death is still painful for his family and the community. But he said having conversations like these with community members are important.
“We as a people have to come together," Campbell said. "And we have to scope this thing out and begin a true and firm dialogue about the changes that need to take place."