The local legacy of James Cates

Here is a very small part of Mr. Cates story. Matt Robinson, a local historian, posted more on Here is a bit:

James Lewis Cates, Jr., was born in 1948 in Chapel Hill. A life-long resident of the town, he was born into the predominantly African-American Northside community, and he bore witness to the monumental changes of the 1960s. He participated in civil rights sit-ins, was arrested along with hundreds of his peers, and was a member of the very first fully integrated graduating class of Chapel Hill High School in 1967.

James Cates died on November 21, 1970, fatally stabbed in the course of a knife-fight that occurred just outside the doors of the snack bar at the UNC Union. He bled to death lying on the bricks of the Pit. His killers were members of a Durham-based motorcycle gang, known as the Stormtroopers. They were notorious figures in the area, unmistakable on their Harley Davidson bikes and decked out in Nazi paraphernalia.

Last night Ruby and I went to Blood Done Sign OUR Names: The Lessons of Censored History For Our Struggles Today’ held on the UNC campus last night. It was sponsored by Campaign for Historical Accuracy and Truth (CHAT), CampusY, Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, Student Action with Workers (SAW), UNC NAACP, United Electrical Workers Local 150 (UE 150), Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), UNC-Chapel Hill Feminist Students United (fsu).

The place was packed with about 150 people to see the four person panel. (scheudal to be five) One panelist was Tim Tyson, the author of Blood Done Sign My Name. His words were very relevant to the students in the room because his book was a summer reading assignment for freshmen. (Called the Carolina Summer Reading Program) Yet another so called “controversial” selection. In the last few years UNC students have been asked to read Nickeled and Dimed which is about the struggle of low payed workers and Approaching the Qur’an which discuses the Muslim holy book. It’s great that these choices create such controversy. It gets people young and old thinking.

The absolutely riveting part of the night for me was when Matt Robinson told the story of the 1970 murder of African American James Cates in Chapel Hill. Matt wrote his master’s thesis on this terrible event. He gave so many details from so many perspectives. It was obvious he has spent years interviewing eye witnesses. It’s one thing when a historian reconstructs a story as fact but quite another when they provide first person accounts. I hope to bring Matt back to the AudioActivism studios and record his telling of these sad events.

All Americans need to organize and attend events like these. It is so important that all races, genders, and classes get together and discuss the difficult topics.

2 thoughts on “The local legacy of James Cates”

  1. I had to leave after the third speaker but I found all three quite engrossing.
    Matt’s tale filled in the details of a story I’d heard for the first time in late ’79, just short of a decade since Mr. Cates had been killed. The former organizer of the housekeeping staff told a tough story of how the staff is getting micromanaged out of existence – timed bathroom breaks, off-the-clock travel, etc. – some management technique called “team” cleaning. Sounds really tough. Finally, Tim’s recounting of the historical context of both the Oxford and Chapel Hill killings hit me hard. I’m a few years younger than Tim but we lived within the same national milieu. While isolated in small town America, I distinctly remember the deaths of Martin and Bobby, the unrest, Nixon, Chicago, etc. Tough stuff.

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