Content warning: This article contains mention of racially-motivated violence.
Last Friday, the University announced plans to develop a permanent memorial in the Pit dedicated to James Lewis Cates Jr.
Cates — a 22-year-old Black Chapel Hill resident — was murdered by members of a white supremacist motorcycle gang after a November 1970 event on UNC's campus near the Pit.
Cates was denied life-saving medical treatment by police, according to the James Cates Remembrance Coalition. The murderers were not convicted. University officials immediately washed Cates' blood from the crime scene. And Cates did not receive justice because his murderers were let go by police at the scene, the coalition said.
The U.S. Department of Justice opened an investigation into the circumstances of Cates' death in March 2022 through the Cold Case Initiative under the Emmett Till Act.
“You have to put it into context that James and others were attending a function on campus where they had been invited to join with white students, in an attempt to further the efforts of integration," Valerie Foushee, Cates’ first cousin and a longtime North Carolina state senator, said.
According to the memorial proposal, Cates’ murder was neglected by police and "largely forgotten about by the University community and people of Chapel Hill."
Cates’ family released a statement to the public following the announcement of the permanent memorial. The statement thanked UNC students and community members who have continuously advocated for action.
“We are grateful for this development while also acknowledging our heartbreak that it has taken more than fifty years to get here,” the statement said.
Foushee said the memorial is a step in the right direction and she hopes more steps will be taken by the University community in the future.
“Our whole purpose in this was to have our whole history acknowledged in such a way that all of us would remember what can happen when we’re not loving, when we’re not accepting and when we don’t embrace our differences,” she said.
A proposal was submitted to the chancellor, vice chancellor and members of the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Naming University Facilities and Units, proposing that the Daniels building — commonly known as the UNC Student Stores building — be named in remembrance of Cates.
Taliajah “Teddy” Vann, UNC's student body president, said she and the administration are committed to developing a memorial that is consistent with the family’s wishes.
“I have every confidence in our chancellor's commitment to ensuring that any memorial that is erected for James Lewis Cates Jr. is one that is in line with what his family wants to see on our campus,” Vann said.
The James Cates Building Proposal was submitted on June 15, 2021 and signed by members of the James Cates Remembrance Coalition. The document was also endorsed by organizations and individuals, including but not limited to Chapel Hill residents, University professors and community activists.
The James Lewis Cates Jr. Memorial Committee, UNC Black Student Movement and other organizations have had a significant impact in the efforts to establish a permanent memorial.
The goal of the James Lewis Cates Jr. Memorial Committee is to "establish a permanent memorial on (UNC's) campus to honor (Cates') life and memory," according to a March 2021 Instagram post on @jlcmemorialproject.
Almost 52 years after Cates' murder, UNC students and community members continue to be adamant about remembering Cates through a memorial. Nicole Murashima, a sophomore at the University, said that the memorial will have a lot of visibility in the Pit, due to its central location on campus.
“The Pit is obviously a place where I walk by everyday and I know a lot of other people do, so it would serve as a good reminder because we’re still grappling with racial inequality and discrimination in all forms,” she said.
Murashima said that the memorial will have a lot of value and meaning on campus.
“We need to be super intentional about these symbols that we’re putting out because they’re not just statues," she said. "They represent our school of thought. They represent our history."
Amy Maddox, a biology professor at UNC is one of the supporters of the proposal and said in an email statement to The Daily Tar Heel that the installation is an important step.
“I am grateful to the historians, advocates and Cates’ family who got us to this point,” Maddox wrote.
Erika Richmond, a post-doctoral research associate and supporter of the proposal said that her hope for the memorial is for it to continue to spark conversations.
She hopes that the University and the student body continue to foster a progressive dialogue surrounding race-based issues on campus.
“I don’t know if it’s enough to put a memorial," Richmond said.
Vann said this is a fight that the family and community has carried for decades.
“It's something that has affected our campus, but what's most important — in my view — is the impact that it does have on this family, and I pray that this will be them receiving some semblance of peace,” she said.
Vann said she is grateful that the memorial is being erected, and that it isn’t just a victory under the belt of a student leader.
“It was 50 years of other people's work that ultimately got us here,” Vann said.
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