UNC Chapel Hill Commission Hears Proposal To Offer Free Education To Descendants of Enslaved Workers

Jul 9, 2020

Danita Mason-Hogans is calling on her fellow members of the UNC Chapel Hill History, Race and a Way Forward Commission to support a proposal to offer a free after school program and free tuition to any UNC System school to descendants of UNC's enslaved workers. She is pictured at the Duke Center for Documentary Studies where she is the Project Coordinator of the Critical Oral Histories project.
Credit Liz Schlemmer / WUNC

Danita Mason-Hogans traces back her family's roots in Chapel Hill seven generations on both sides.

"My family's history is deeply connected to the University," Mason-Hogans said.

Her father's side of the family were Masons and Nunns, two prominent family names in Chapel Hill connected to a plantation that was where the current UNC-Chapel Hill Friday Center stands. Her grandfather worked 53 years at the Carolina Inn and her mother was one of the first Black admissions officers at the University.

"We just recently discovered that some of our ancestors were buried on the grounds of Finley Golf Course," Mason-Hogans said, referring to the university-owned golf course, also near the site of the plantation where her father's ancestors were enslaved.

Earlier this year, UNC-Chapel Hill revamped a commission charged with recommending how it can reckon with its involvement in racism and slavery. As a member of the History, Race and a Way Forward Commission, Mason-Hogans will present her proposal for change Friday.

Mason-Hogans proposes that UNC Chapel Hill pay for a Pre-K through 12th grade after-school enrichment program and tuition to any UNC System school for the descendants of enslaved UNC workers. She is also calling for reimbursement of past tuition paid by eligible alumni.

Mason-Hogans says like a lot of Black residents of Chapel Hill, her relationship with the University is complicated -- with fond memories and mixed feelings. She recalls doing homework in her mother's office, having her run of the campus and stopping at the Intimate Bookshop on Franklin Street where her grandmother worked.

"The University became a second home to me," Mason-Hogans said.

But when it came time for her to go to college in the late 80s, Mason-Hogans chose to attend North Carolina A&T State University. There she started working with after school programs, and saw the positive effects of investing in Black children's education. That experience is central to her proposal.

 
"I think it's important that UNC pick up the tab number one, because ancestors of mine and of local people contributed to the $6.8 billion endowment that UNC enjoys right now," Mason-Hogans said.
 
Mason-Hogans says her plan is not the same as federal reparations. She sees it as something the University could do to recognize its past and address achievement gaps between white and black students in local schools.

"My proposal I would like to think is more of an opportunity to do course correction for what's going on currently in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Orange County Schools," Mason-Hogans said.

A 2019 study by the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis found Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools had the second largest achievement gap between white and Black students of nearly every school district in the country with a significant Black or Hispanic population.

Mason-Hogans also points to a persistent divide in the percentage of white and Black Chapel Hill residents who have college degrees, and in the University's historical under-investment in the education of Black locals.

"The Orange County Training School was established [in 1924] on the premise that Black people could be instructed on how to be better servants of UNC," Mason-Hogans said. "I think in a lot of ways that really speaks to UNC's commitment to our education and dependence on us being under-educated."

"My long term hope is that we will produce new generations of learners, new generations of young Black kids who have access to college," Mason-Hogans said.
 
The UNC Chapel Hill History Race and a Way Forward Commission has adopted Mason-Hogans proposal as one component of its action plant that it will recommend to the University's Board of Trustees.