Oral History

James Brittian - On the African American freedom struggle and Civil Rights Movement in Chapel Hill

Interviewed by John Kenyon "Yonni" Chapman on November 27, 1990

“In the Black community, regardless of who you were, everyone socialized together to a certain degree.”

- James Brittian

James Brittian was born in 1944 on Rosemary Street and grew up in Chapel Hill. He talks about his family, growing up with his brothers and sisters, being a middle child, and his parents’ separation in 1954. He recounts the kinds of jobs his parents had, and how growing up he rarely heard anyone talk about their work. He also discusses how Black people were denied job opportunities and had to endure workplace discrimination and degrading treatment from white employers which greatly affected them and their families. Brittian attended Northside Elementary and Lincoln High School, and he touches on topics such as the importance of getting a good education in the Black community and how Black teachers were highly respected.

Brittian participated in the Civil Rights Movement in and around Chapel Hill, NC in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. He was involved in some of the first civil rights actions in Chapel Hill when he was fifteen. Brittian talks about participating in marches and sit-ins at places like Colonial Drugstore, joining the Committee of Open Business, and his friends that were involved in the movement at the time. He recounts how the Civil Rights Movement in Chapel Hill differed from that of other cities in North Carolina, how white people were involved in the movement, as well as how fear kept many in the Black community from publicly supporting the movement. Brittian discusses how the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill had a lot of influence over Chapel Hill, but also refused to take a stand on the Civil Rights Movement. He became the chairman of a student committee called the Chapel Hill Freedom Committee and details how the committee organized and participated in Civil Rights demonstrations such as boycotts, rallies, and marches. The Freedom Committee organized a school boycott in February of 1964, which lasted two months and led to Brittian being expelled from his high school. He also recounts the end of the Civil Rights Movement in Chapel Hill, and how those involved, including him, were tried unfairly in court and either imprisoned or put on probation.

Audio recordings of interviews conducted by Yonni Chapman with participants in the African American freedom struggle and the civil rights movement in and around Chapel Hill, N.C.

James Brittian - On the African American freedom struggle and Civil Rights Movement in Chapel Hill

James Brittian - On the African American freedom struggle and Civil Rights Movement in Chapel Hill

Oral history interview of Brittian, James conducted by Chapman, John Kenyon "Yonni" on November 27, 1990 at Chapel Hill, NC. Processed by Sun, Finley.

Citation: The Southern Historical Collection at the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, “James Brittian - On the African American freedom struggle and Civil Rights Movement in Chapel Hill,” From the Rock Wall, accessed April 18, 2024, https://fromtherockwall.org/oral-histories/james-brittian-on-the-african-american-freedom-struggle-and-civil-rights-movement-in-chapel-hill.

Rights: Open for research. The Southern Historical Collection (SHC) welcomes non-commercial use and access that qualifies as fair use to all unrestricted interview materials in the collection. The researcher must cite and give proper credit to the SHC. The SHC requests that the researcher informs the SHC as to how and where they are using the material.

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