The James Cates Remembrance Coalition sent a proposal to rename the Student Stores Building after James Lewis Cates Jr. to Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and a University naming committee on June 15.
The building was named after white supremacist Josephus Daniels until the Board of Trustees voted to remove the name last July.
James Lewis Cates Jr., a 22-year-old Chapel Hill resident, was stabbed to death by members of a white supremacist biker gang near the Student Union on Nov. 21, 1970. According to the coalition's statement, police failed to provide life-saving medical treatment to Cates in a timely manner. The killers were found not guilty during the murder trial the following year.
The James Cates Remembrance Coalition was formed last year to preserve the memory of Cates.
Mike Ogle, a journalist who focuses primarily on Black history in Chapel Hill, said during a presentation for the Center for the Study of the American South that one of Cates' friends sparked discussions about the incident. He said he was unable to find adequate information on Cates' death.
“When I first heard a few years ago that a man was murdered on campus, the only result all that Google produced was one short blog post,” Ogle said during an episode of the podcast "Re/Collecting Chapel Hill."
He said that after conducting more research on the life and death of Cates, he realized the story painted a larger picture of racial injustices across the country.
Ogle said students set up a memorial for Cates a few years ago, but the University quickly removed it. He said Cates' family has felt ignored for the last 50 years due to UNC's silence and lack of accountability.
After the Board of Trustees voted to remove the name from the Daniels Building last summer, the coalition had several discussions about potentially adding Cates' name. Ogle said he felt it was important to both Cates' family and the coalition to move forward with the name addition.
The University has not yet responded to the coalition's proposal.
Cates' cousin, Nate Davis, said Cates was a friendly and outgoing person, and he deserves to be remembered in an honorable way.
According to the proposal, Cates marched in the local civil rights movement and attended segregated schools until his senior year of high school.
Davis said Cates was a kind person who loved to help others.
“As a person, James was a trustworthy, likable, charming and ambitious person,” he said. “The family and the community feel great about the possibility of the building named after James.”
'Reckoning with history'
Danita Mason-Hogans, a Chapel Hill resident who works with veterans of the student nonviolent coordinating committee at Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies, said she is developing and adapting the critical oral history methodology.
"This methodology centers the experiences of people that live the history, it gives us the greater insight on what happened, why it happened and who was involved," Mason-Hogans said.
Mason-Hogans said Cates was the local Black community's George Floyd, and they were never able to reckon with that history.
Seth Kotch is a professor in UNC's Department of American Studies and directs the Southern oral history program. He said the University has an obligation to the Black residents of Chapel Hill, and renaming the Daniels Building after Cates would be a step in the right direction.
"The University has an opportunity to do the right thing. To say to the family of James Cates, 'We made a mistake,'" Kotch said.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.