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How Dean Smith's Push For Civil Rights Transformed Chapel Hill

An image of the book cover for 'Game Changers'
Courtesy of UNC Press

Dean Smith is known as a legendary basketball coach at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His teams won 879 games and two NCAA national championships.

But one of Smith's most crowning achievements isn't instilled in a trophy. In 1967, Smith recruited basketball player Charlie Scott, the first African-American scholarship athlete at UNC-CH. It was a seminal act for Smith and furthered his push for civil rights in the South.  

In the new book,"Game Changers: Dean Smith, Charlie Scott and The Era That Transformed A Southern College Town"(UNC Press/2016), author ArtChanksy details Smith and Scott's origins and relationship at UNC-CH.

Host Frank Stasio talks with Chansky about the racial climate of Chapel Hill during the civil rights movement and why Smith put his job on the line in recruiting Scott.


On Dean Smith’s upbringing in Kansas and what sparked his conviction for civil rights:

“Dean came to Chapel Hill with the DNA because his father had integrated high school basketball in Kansas back in the 1930s. Dean was a young boy at the time but he grew up and watched his father deal with the pushback for the black players and he had it in his mind that whenever he coached a college team it was time for him to integrate it too.”

On the story that Dean Smith helped integrate Chapel Hill restaurants in 1959 with his pastor Robert Seymour:

“Reverend Seymour said to Dean, ‘I want to bring a black theology student to the restaurant The Pines and if you come with me I think they will seat us because they will know you as an assistant coach.’ Sure enough they went there and Leroy and Agnes Merritt seated Dean, Reverend Seymour and the black theology student. They served them and that was it. But they didn’t serve them because they were opening up the restaurant. They served them because they knew Dean would go back and tell [head coach] Frank McGuire and Mcguire would have pulled all his business out of The Pines. The reason it’s a myth is because from that incident in 1959 to the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, The Pines was one of the most heavily protested and picketed restaurants in Chapel Hill. They never served another black until 1964.”

On Charlie Scott’s experience on campus at UNC-Chapel Hill:

“Charlie actually found his social life at North Carolina Central. He actually got married after his sophomore year because he was so lonely. He admits in the book that he got married for all the wrong reasons and still feels terrible about it. Charlie needed it for loneliness because he couldn’t go with Rusty Clark to the Phi Delt house or Larry Miller to the Ehringhaus dorm to hang out with the football team. It was all white and he was uncomfortable and they were uncomfortable, so he found it at N.C. Central and that helped him get through.”

On Charlie Scott’s legacy at UNC-Chapel Hill today:

“Dean Smith never wanted to recognize Charlie Scott for being an African American. He wanted to recognize him for being a good student and a great basketball player. I think UNC has made a mistake and they haven’t given him enough recognition and I think they are going to fix that.”


In 2013, President Obama awarded Dean Smith with the Presidential Medal of Freedom to recognize Smith's work on and off the court.

Art Chansky reads at 3 p.m. at Barnes & Nobles in Greensboro on Saturday, Dec 3. 

Charlie Shelton-Ormond is a podcast producer for WUNC.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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