The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Morgan Shiver, Contributor • June 20, 2024
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Answering the call of the Revolution

How different life is these days. The call came right after supper on an evening in late October of 1968 while I was a graduate student at Duke University. Fall leaf colors had not yet reached their apex of intensity but on some mornings the chill produced early morning shudders while students walked to class.

I’m still not sure why Professor “T” called me. Perhaps it was because I was doing independent study in Old Testament with him or had babysat his kids a couple of times. Regardless of the reason, the call became a summons.

“Will, the Revolution needs you. Can you come over to North Carolina Central?”

The Revolution? What revolution? But he was my professor and this was Duke University. I was intrigued, perplexed, and committed to seeing the evening through.

North Carolina Central University is a predominantly Black institution set squarely in the middle of Durham, North Carolina. In 1968 its enrollment could not have been more than six thousand. I’d heard that faculty from Duke ,UNC, and NCCU had gotten together to work on race relations. A new student at Duke, I had not experienced any of those interactions. They were just rumors. That night I’d discover their truth or at least a more accurate interpretation of that hear-say.

The address proved to be an apartment building on the edge of campus, south of the industrial section and rail yards of downtown Durham. Third floor apartment. Seemed like students lived there, at least by the music that drifted down the hallway and the familiar smell of pizza.

My professor and several folks, whom I’d later learn were NCCU professors, sat huddled around a coffee table. They stood when I entered the room. I had been chosen to break the back of the Durham real estate community’s refusal to integrate its housing rental and sales practices. That was the focus of the revolution. When I learned the specifics of the battle plan, I agreed to join the “block-busting infantry.”

The next week would prove an intense experience for me and my block-busting partner. We responded to a realty company’s offer of rentals, inspected a house and an apartment and gave a verbal commitment to lease, willing to close the next day. When presenting ourselves to the realtor for signing, we excused ourselves, called to our side a young African-American couple waiting in the office’s foyer, and noted that although our plans had changed, we’d secured substitute renters for the property. His jaw almost hit the floor. He cursed us, then stormed off to his boss’ office. With an abbreviated copy of the Federal Public Accommodations Law in our pockets, the four of us watched the drama unfold. They signed a lease.

Today, folks can find those little black and white “equality logos” in almost every bank, mortgage company, and realty office in the country. As I look back on my graduate school experience, I take quiet comfort in knowing that I had a tiny part in making open housing a reality in Durham, North Carolina. And that experience, unlike some during my undergrad years at Centenary College in Shreveport, didn’t result in a burning cross on my lawn.

What might a student today anticipate should a professor call one evening and command,

“The revolution needs you?” I cannot imagine.

Will Finnin can be reached for comment at [email protected].

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