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Arts & Culture

Bringing To Life The Voices Of The UNC Food Worker Strike

students protesting with police officers in the foreground
Courtesy of the UNC-Chapel Hill University Libraries
Students protesting during the 1969 UNC food workers' strike.

Fifty years ago, food services workers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill went on strike for better wages and working conditions. The Black Student Movement supported the strike, which put a spotlight on labor and racial inequities at the university.

A new performance from Playmakers Repertory Company called “Voices from the Archives: The 1969 UNC Food Workers’ Strike” uses material from the Wilson Special Collections Library at UNC to tell the story of this strike.

Host Frank Stasio talks to Jennifer Coggins about how oral histories, archival documents and news accounts formed the basis for this performance. Coggins is a collections management and engagement archivist at UNC Archives in the Wilson Special Collections Library.

Kathy Williams also joins the conversation to share what it is like to turn first-person stories into a theatrical production. Williams is a member of the Playmakers Repertory Company, the director of the new production and a faculty member in the department of dramatic art at UNC.

two women and a man at a podium
Credit Courtesy of UNC-Chapel Hill University Libraries
Strike leaders Mary Smith (L) and Elizabeth Brooks (middle) stand with a young man during the 1969 UNC food workers' strike.

Voices from the Archives: The 1969 UNC Food Workers’ Strike” will be performed in the Pleasants Family Assembly Room in the Wilson Special Collections Library on Wednesday, March 20. The library also has an exhibition, called “Service, Not Servitude: The 1969 Food Workers’ Strikes at UNC-Chapel Hill” on view in the North Carolina Collection Gallery until May 31.

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