Update on Build our Community Together: Announcing a year-long study on 50-year anniversary of James Cates murder

Only by discovering, sharing and discussing the details of this story together can we continue to learn, grow and become the inclusive and welcoming community we aspire to be.

Campus features from the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on November 10, 2020. (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Dear Carolina Community,

When our strategic plan was launched in January, we intentionally placed “Build our Community Together” as the first initiative. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, our students, faculty and staff have moved this critical work forward. We have developed new courses on history, race and reckoning. We have presented historical research on named buildings and made decisions to remove some of those names, all while engaging with members of the Chapel Hill and Carrboro communities. We have worked to recruit and retain a culturally diverse campus community through efforts such as the Carolina Postdoctoral Program. I am indebted to the many faculty and staff who have led this work, and numerous other initiatives, to make our community stronger and more inclusive.

Today, I want to share with you another initiative that aligns with our strategic plan. Nov. 21 marks the 50th anniversary of the murder of James Lewis Cates, who was stabbed by known white supremacists outside Carolina’s Student Union. The 22-year-old Chapel Hill native bled to death in the heart of campus though the hospital was just down the road.

Most people on our campus and in our community do not know this story and this needs to change. Today, a committee composed of researchers from our campus, members of the Cates family and officials from the Town of Chapel Hill are launching a year-long exploration of the events of James Cates’ murder. Faculty members on the committee include Professor Malinda Maynor Lowery, director of the Center for the Study of the American South; Professor Karla Slocum, director of the Institute of African American Research and Thomas Willis Lambeth Distinguished Chair in Public Policy; Associate Profesor Patricia Parker, communication department chair and co-chair of the UNC Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward; and Professor James L. Leloudis, Peter T. Grauer Associate Dean for Honors Carolina, director of the James M. Johnston Center for Undergraduate Excellence, and fellow co-chair of the UNC Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward. This is an opportunity to finally tell the full and complete story of this horrific event, with the guidance of the Cates family. For more information, visit the Center for the Study of the American South website.

The first step to understanding our history as a University is to tell our stories frankly, truthfully and without any pretense. Reconciliation is a process and truth-telling takes time. The Center for the Study of the American South, the Institute of African American Research and the UNC Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward are working diligently and we are eagerly waiting to see the results of their process. This story has been silent for far too long, and we are grateful to our faculty and to the Cates family, who have suffered the loss of their loved one, for partnering with us. Only by discovering, sharing and discussing the details of this story together can we continue to learn, grow and become the inclusive and welcoming community we aspire to be.

Sincerely,

Kevin M. Guskiewicz
Chancellor