University of North Carolina to Erect a Memorial for a Black Man Murdered on Campus in 1970

On November 21, 1970, James L. Cates Jr., a 22-year-old Black man from the Chapel Hill community, was stabbed outside the Student Union on the campus of the University of North Carolina. He bled to death in the heart of campus though the hospital was just down the road. At that time only 2 percent of the undergraduate student body was Black.

Cates was killed during a large fight outside a dance at the Student Union. It was an all-night dance marathon meant to foster improved race relations. The fight was between members of a Nazi-themed motorcycle gang called the Storm Troopers and African Americans who were attending the dance marathon.

One UNC police officer was there from the start. Another arrived just after the initial scuffle; several more came during and immediately after the fight. According to reports, the police officers at the scene did little to nothing to tend to James aside from calling for an ambulance. Eventually, Cates was placed in a police car and taken to the hospital. The emergency room doctor later told the Cates family that he would have survived if he had arrived at the hospital sooner. Police dispersed the crowd and made no arrests. Three members of the Storm Troopers were arrested for the murder later that weekend.

In March, the trial lasted three and a half days. The defense called no witnesses. An all-White jury deliberated for 85 minutes before returning a verdict of not guilty.

Recently, Kevin M. Guskiewicz, chancellor of the university, announced that the university will install a permanent memorial at the site of the murder to honor Cates’  life. “We have developed this memorial based on input and advocacy from students, faculty, staff and in close partnership with the Cates family,” Chancellor Guskiewicz said.

A more detailed account of the murder can be read here.

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