Dozens of students and community members gathered Tuesday afternoon for the Behind The Veil ceremony. The event centered on civil rights lawyer and two-time UNC alumna Geeta N. Kapur’snew book and the racial history it reveals about the University.
"To Drink from the Well: The Struggle for Racial Equality at the Nation’s Oldest Public University" — which was released Tuesday — is a comprehensive look at UNC's history of systemic racism.
“This is a moment I have been waiting for for a very long time,” Kapur said. “There were many times I wanted to give up because it was too painful and it was costing me too much. And I didn’t know any of you students who were here, but I knew you were here, and I knew I owed it to you all.”
The event was co-hosted by UNC’s Black Student Movement, the North Carolina NAACP, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP and the Carolina Union Activities Board. The first 100 students to register for the event received a free copy of the book.
After an opening performance from a cappella group Harmonyx, Student Body President Lamar Richards and BSM President Taliajah Vann each spoke about the injustices faced by Black students and community members at the University.
“May this wonderful work of literature set ablaze to every hiding crevice of oppression, racism and hatred at this University, and draw upon us a new day to live, breathe and work for a University we all truly know and love,” Richards said.
Vann said the demands of Black students have been long ignored, in particular concerns related to safety.
“We’ve been consistently ignored for decades, and we will continue to be unless we begin to shine light on what this University does when they think that no one is watching,” Vann said. “I think that’s the beautiful part about Geeta’s narrative — it’s a beautiful opportunity for us to truly see what goes on behind the veil.”
Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, the president of the North Carolina NAACP, also spoke.
“Students of UNC-Chapel Hill, I say unto you, if I have the power to make a demand, that you would rise up with more force than you have to this point, and you make sure that you do not rest content until you are to establish a new campus here at UNC-Chapel Hill,” Spearman said.
Kapur presented a copy of the book wrapped in a red ribbon to Vann and Richards.
"I chose a red ribbon for all the blood that has been shed here," she said.
During her speech, Kapur shared the names of many of the Black people who were enslaved at the University during the 19th century — all that Kapur could find records of during her research for the book. In response, attendees said, "We speak their names," in unison before Kapur read another group of names.
“This University has buried, concealed, scattered, denied and even lied about its racial history,” Kapur said. “We will no longer hide behind your veil of the perfect Old Well and the story that everyone lives happily ever after here.”
Kapur said she hopes this book unveils the truth about University history and teaches Black students about the determination of their ancestors.
“Our ancestors fought and marched and went to court to every inch that you all have, every inch that I had when I was here,” Kapur said. “And may this book teach you to love this University more — like I do — because it is holy ground. It was built brick by brick by our ancestors. And though it feels like a battlefield, it is our home. It belongs to us.”
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