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Saturday January 28th

Cheek Clark Building exhibit honors integral African American staff

A celebration for two housekeepers and a groundskeeper took place on Jan. 23 in the Cheek Clark Building.
Buy Photos A celebration for two housekeepers and a groundskeeper took place on Jan. 23 in the Cheek Clark Building.

A building on Cameron Avenue was renamed in 1998 to honor two African American housekeepers: Kennon Cheek and Rebecca Clark. 

More than 20 years later, a celebration for Cheek, Clark and groundskeeper William “Bus” Hubbard took place on Jan. 23 in the Cheek Clark Building. It honored the late members of UNC's staff and opened the exhibit detailing their lives and contributions to the University. 

The building, known as the University Laundry until its renaming, now houses grounds, housekeeping and building services. 

Renaming the building after two African American staff members was an intentional effort to honor the contributions of African Americans to the University throughout the centuries, said Cecelia Moore, UNC’s former University historian who met with the families and completed much of the research for the exhibit. 

Herb Richmond, director of housekeeping for UNC, said the new exhibit serves to keep employees from grounds, housekeeping and building services — all under one department — from feeling disconnected.

One wall of the exhibit, directly through the front door, gives information about Clark and Cheek, two former housekeepers at UNC.

Clark was a housekeeper and a nurse later in her career, the exhibit explains. While at UNC, she met often with other University employees, from fellow housekeepers to chancellors, to advocate for better conditions for housekeeping staff.

Cheek was a janitor in Venable Hall and co-founded the Janitors' Association at UNC. Cheek’s love of his family and desire to provide for them motivated him to stand up for adequate pay, among other improvements, Richmond said. 

Cheek and Clark also served as leaders in the Chapel Hill community, and their children continued similar work, according to the exhibit. 

The Marian Cheek Jackson Center, located at 512 W. Rosemary St., is named after one of Cheek’s daughters. She was a historian and prominent figure in Chapel Hill’s historically Black Northside community.

Yvonne Cleveland, director of operations at the Jackson Center, attended the Jan. 23 celebration at the Cheek Clark Building, as did relatives of the honored individuals. 

Cleveland said Cheek, Clark and Hubbard deserve to be recognized.

“We’re talking about a time that wasn’t so easy, you know?” Cleveland said. “For Black people, it really was not easy. They were not accepted. But you had those who fought and believed that they should have better, and they stood up and organized and made it happen. So, yes, they should have been recognized.”

On another wall, down the hallway from the entrance of the building, is the part of the exhibit about William "Bus" Hubbard. Hubbard was a longtime arborist at UNC, known for his work ethic and true enjoyment of his job, Richmond said. 

“He worked here for 50 years — just remarkable,” Moore said. 

Moore said the exhibit as a whole is significant because it recognizes notable people at the University who are not normally recognized.

“The building is not named for big donors or distinguished alumni, it’s named for employees,” Moore said.

Along with donors and alumni, The Daily Tar Heel reported in 2018 that the namesakes for around 30 buildings on campus are tied to white supremacy.

Moore said the exhibit helps give people a better understanding of the great scale of facilities and grounds operations.

“Most people on the campus on a daily basis, as students or employees, don’t really have to think about that scale — they think about that residence hall or that classroom building or that library,” Moore said. “But they don’t think of taking care of research buildings and labs and the hospitals and the really ancient, old buildings.”

A floor to ceiling timeline, another section of the exhibit, highlights the scale as it explains the history of the Cheek Clark Building and facilities operations at UNC since the University was founded in 1795. 

The speeches given at the exhibit’s celebration would make many people view housekeeping differently, Cleveland said.

Moore agreed, and said many current staff also display the admirable traits Cheek, Clark and Hubbard are honored for.

“What stands out to me is how much they were leaders in the community and the University," Moore said. "And that there are many people like that now who we’re not always aware of."

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