Cheek-Clark Building The Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History

Chris Baumann on generational movements made through small acts

Excerpt Description: Chris Baumann explains that justice movements at the University are built by each generation of students through a series of small acts made by groups and individuals.

Interviewee Name: Chris Baumann

Interviewer: Charlotte Fryar

Excerpt Transcript: “We were inspired by the work of the students that came before us, and while we were there, you know, on the environmental movement, fighting for African American student—but all student rights. That’s what we always said. The Black Cultural Center wasn’t just for black students; it was for all students, right, that we could learn and develop. But it was about student power, being able to shape our university, what we wanted it to look like, and worker power, and so while we were there, we ran the march. And so the hope is, is that each generation moves us further, right? So the students now are, you know, going back and going after Silent Sam, right? And the alumni, we’ve got to support them in that struggle, right? As I said, I can guarantee the issues are still there with the housekeepers, right? They’re still underpaid. I’m sure their work conditions still aren’t great, and it sounds like they still don’t have the training, right, you know? And again, it’s self-determination, and I think what made it strong during the sixties for the cafeteria workers’ strike and while we were there is that the housekeepers were at the lead, right? And so, I mean, it would have been a different story if we were advocating on their behalf, but they weren’t standing up for themselves. It still would be a just cause to do it, but I think the strength was that it was housekeepers leading it, and we were there as allies, both from the student and the community.
But, you know, it starts in conversations. As I say, it started with me just showing up, you know. I didn’t have—you know, that first time I showed up, I just thought it was the right thing to do to help out, right? I said, “Hey, I gotta put up or shut up.” I always said I hoped I would have done the right thing in the sixties. Well, at least I can show up. And you just figure out things you can to help, and I think there’s a lot of magic in the times, right? You know, it just doesn’t [snaps fingers] happen like that. I mean, we had, you know, our teachers, and with Margo [Crawford] and the Campus Y leaders, Al [McSurely], I mean, we definitely had older folks around us kind of moving us along, and, of course, Marsha and Annie and Larry, I mean, they were all older than us. But also you’ve got to learn, right? That’s where you learn. But, I mean, we didn’t know what we were doing. I mean, look, SEAC grew out of nothing, right, just putting an ad in the newspaper. The Black Cultural Center started with a small meeting, and all these things happened. And again, while we won victories with the housekeepers, there’s still a lot of work. So, (a), you don’t have to be an expert, right? You know, I know I certainly wasn’t. I didn’t come from this big activist family that, you know, had been in the civil rights movement and all these other things. You know, we just wanted to make the world a better place. You know, take advantage. You’re in that learning institution that has a lot of resources, to try to use those to make the world better, and so I think that’s kind of it. You know, everybody runs their leg of the race.”

Organization: UNC Housekeepers Association, Student Environmental Action Coalition, Campus Y, BCC Movement

Excerpt Length: 2:52

Interview Date: 12/22/2017

Interview Location: Tucker, Georgia

Campus Space: Cheek-Clark Building, The Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History

Citation:  Interview with Chris Baumann by Charlotte Fryar, 22 December 2017, in the Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007), Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.