Part I of “Legacies of Lincoln” shines a light on the Mighty Tigers football team from Chapel Hill-Carrboro’s segregated Lincoln High School, and its role during the first wave of the towns’ movement for civil rights in 1960 and ’61.

The Second Wave: 1963-64

“The real reason the Lincoln Tigers can’t lose is that they won’t,” J.A.C. Dunn wrote in The Chapel Hill Weekly. 

It was November 1963, and Thomas Bell was running again. But this time he was grown, and he was fearless. This time, he wasn’t alone.

Bell was now a star on the Mighty Tigers, and his first-quarter rushing touchdown, as well as a 100-yard pick-six on the defensive side in the fourth quarter, helped Lincoln demolish Nash County High in Nashville, N.C., 36-0. Under the leadership of quarterback Fred Baldwin, Lincoln headed into the Eastern District playoffs not only undefeated, but also without giving up a single point all season.

Williamston’s Hayes High finally scored on the Tigers in the Eastern District final, but Baldwin and Bell led Lincoln over Hayes, 25-12. The undefeated team was back in the championship game. 

Like the Tigers ’63 football season, the desegregation movement in Chapel Hill was reaching a fever pitch. 

In late December alone, around 200 people were arrested at protests and sit-ins, including eight arrests on December 20 for blocking the sidewalk in front of the Tar Heel Sandwich Shop. 

The direct action took place only a couple of weeks after the championship game, which Lincoln lost to Winston-Salem’s Anderson High. But though the season was over, the Tigers’ fullback had made The Chapel Hill Weekly again:

 “Those arrested, in addition to the three leaders: … Thomas E. Bell, Negro.”

Eight days later, a group gathered at Carlton’s Rock Pile, a convenience store and gas station on East Franklin Street. They sat on the floor when they were refused service. The owner, Carlton Mize, locked the doors from the inside. Knowing the demonstrators’ vows of passive nonviolence, Mize brought out bottles of Clorox and ammonia and poured them onto the heads of those gathered.

Several protesters were taken to the hospital. After their stomachs were pumped and ointment was given for their burns, they were thrown in jail. James Foushee, a former Mighty Tiger and the brother of movement leader Braxton Foushee, was one.

Mize was never prosecuted.

The struggle continued to escalate early the following year. On February 1, 1964, on the four-year anniversary of the Greensboro sit-in, 75 people were arrested in Chapel Hill at various sit-downs in streets and at restaurants.

A week later, Braxton Foushee helped organize the largest demonstration yet. Immediately following a UNC men’s basketball home game against Wake Forest, hundreds of protestors choreographed synchronized waves of sitting or lying in the streets. They blocked the intersection of Franklin and Columbia Streets, as well as many of the roads out of town. With thousands leaving the game, chaos ensued. The police threw demonstrators into a used bread truck that became a makeshift paddy wagon.

And the pot continued to boil. A month later, James Foushee, along with three others, held an eight-day fast in front of the Franklin Street post office. The fast honored anyone charged with trespassing or obstruction, now up to 1,500 people. The New York Times reported on it daily. On the north edge of Chapel Hill, the Ku Klux Klan rallied 700 people.

Three months later, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing segregation in public places. But denial of service and physical violence continued in at least two restaurants in Chapel Hill.

Though tensions simmered all summer and into the fall, football carried on. It was Fred Baldwin’s senior year, and the Mighty Tigers gave up only eight points the entire season, in an 8-7 loss to Durham’s Merrick-Moore High, which went on to win the state title.

From the St. Joseph C.M.E. Church basement this July, I sat with Fred Baldwin and Jimmy Weaver as they remembered (and lamented) the name of the Merrick-Moore player—Kenny Davis—who scored the final points to beat the Tigers. Weaver recalled Baldwin running the ball on a desperate option play, and missing the end zone by inches.

As an upperclassman in high school, Fred Baldwin received a scholarship to North Carolina College, which is now N.C. Central University.

Just like at Lincoln, he did the improbable: He started at quarterback as a freshman.

Thrown away

By some measures, rays of light began to penetrate one of the darker periods in Chapel Hill’s—and the country’s—history. In 1968, Albert Williams, a former Mighty Tiger fullback and one of the Chapel Hill Nine, became the town’s first Black firefighter. The following year, Braxton Foushee was elected the first Black alderman in Carrboro, serving until 1981. Also in 1969, his friend Howard Lee became not only the first Black mayor elected in Chapel Hill, but the first in a majority-white municipality in the South.

But where some lights shone, others were extinguished. In 1966, two years after the Civil Rights Act, the doors of Lincoln High School were closed to the community that once thrived within them. Not long after, the once-bright lights at Lions Park were switched off for the last time, taken down, and disassembled. The field was paved over and developed, making room for new apartments.

In Chapel Hill throughout the decades that have followed the Civil Rights Act, the difference between desegregation and integration became increasingly clear. Mismanaged integration, intentional or not, has kept equity at bay.

On a stormy morning in late June, I met Braxton Foushee at Weaver Street Market in Carrboro. As we talked, he’d howl with laughter or swell with pride, retelling stories of agitating all the right people in every decade from his Mighty Tigers days to the present.

But when I asked about the new home for Lincoln’s football trophies after all the students were moved to the new Chapel Hill High School miles from town, he stopped and looked me dead in the eye:

Everything at Lincoln was thrown away.” 

Desegregation over integration

When the doors to Chapel Hill High School (CHHS), the same one that sits off of Homestead Road today, opened in 1966, all students in town attended. But for those who came over from Lincoln High, nothing was familiar.

Very few students walked to school anymore. Whereas Lincoln High was less than a mile from many Black neighborhoods and churches, the new high school was almost five miles away. The award-winning Lincoln band could no longer gather on its campus and march down Franklin and Rosemary Streets for homecoming games or Christmas parades.

What’s more, by nearly every measure, CHHS remained a white school. While it might have been desegregated, Black students had to assimilate. It kept the name of the white high school, the Wildcats mascot remained for several years, and students sported the same school colors as when the high school was all-white.

Coach W.D. Peerman, who had led the Mighty Tigers to its undefeated state championship in 1961, was now an assistant to a white head coach. Lincoln’s beloved principal, Mr. McDougle, was also an assistant to a less-qualified white person. The teachers were overwhelmingly white, and many held prejudices against their new Black students.

Lincoln’s student newspaper, The Lincoln Echo, was gone. The Black community’s Parent-Teacher-Student Association was gone. And so were the trophies.

When the Lincoln building became the school district office after its students left, Braxton Foushee remembers one day when word spread that the Lincoln trophies were sitting in a dumpster behind the school. Only a few were recovered.

Yet the most damaging consequences were not the material ones—not the school’s new location, nor the Wildcat mascot, nor the abandoned trophies.

Mismanaged integration creates a haunting legacy.

In late June, I met Dave Mason Jr., one of the Chapel Hill Nine and a former statistician for the Mighty Tigers, at the Chapel Hill Public Library with his daughter, Danita. His Lincoln recollections were clear and proud, and his laughter easy. But so was his anger.

“Our schools were desegregated in 1966,” Mason Jr. said. “But we have, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the second-highest achievement gap, and one of the highest economical gaps, in the country! Now how can this happen in Chapel Hill?” 

When the systemic reproductions of structural racism are allowed to endure, the barriers to racial equity bob and weave like the heads of a hydra. The monster survives any solitary beheading. Racial caste is reconfigured.

But even in the wake of racism, erasure, and neglect, many people have sustained the spirit that flourished at Lincoln, and have maintained its history. Trophies may get thrown away, but some lights cannot be extinguished.

The Marian Cheek Jackson Center, in the building next to the church basement where Baldwin, Weaver, and I sat in July, preserves the struggles of history. 

Similarly, Mason Jr.’s daughter, Danita Mason-Hogans, lights innumerable new candles as she now carries the torch for progress.

Not if but how

Mason-Hogans, whose Chapel Hill roots go back seven generations on both sides of her family, is an activist and community historian, two roles that come as no surprise to her.

“A lot of the people on the 1961 Mighty Tigers football team were mentors; they were like uncles to me,” Mason-Hogans told me. “And a lot of the values and things that went on from that team were passed on to me and informed my activism in the ’80s and the ’90s. So it was never a thought of if I should become involved with social-justice efforts. It’s how. It was a continuation of that legacy.”

The legacy to which she refers—her father’s generation’s—might have already had its heyday. But their fire is not extinguished, either. Dave Mason Jr. isn’t done fighting:

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s good to call attention to the fact that you see something wrong and protest it,” he said of today’s young people who are working towards equity. “I’m saying, ‘Hell, do something about it. OK?’ Don’t just talk about it. Let’s do something.”

From the church basement, Baldwin and Weaver agreed that the fight must go on.

“Everything is not as it should be,” Baldwin remarked.

“And you wouldn’t know about it unless somebody raises some hell,” Weaver added.

Baldwin sees the same patterns—perceived supremacy, prescribed social order—enduring in the world around him, particularly via the will of older white generations.

“They think they’re supposed to have superiority,” he said, “and that you’re still supposed to stay where you are and stay in your class and don’t ever progress. Just stay where you are. That’s the sad part. We’re constantly living in today’s world from yesterday’s world. It’s still there. It hasn’t gone anywhere.”

Taking up the torch

This April, Education Week, a national platform for education news and information, published a story that echoes Mason Jr.’s frustration and anger, and cites research behind the figures that he mentioned.

The authors write:

“So if Chapel Hill is so progressive, then why does our district have the second largest achievement gap nationally for Black students and the fifth largest for Latinx students, when compared with white students, as recently described by Stanford University researcher Sean F. Reardon and his colleagues.

“Barriers like the achievement gap are rooted in slavery, then segregation, and then mismanaged integration. In Reardon’s research, parents’ income, their education, and the degree of segregation in the neighborhoods they live in predict a large part of their children’s test scores. These barriers are unknowingly upheld by the people who thrive in the system that perpetuates them.”

The authors aren’t academics or professionals. At the time of the publication, they were two students at Carrboro High School, located less than two miles away from where the building that housed Lincoln still stands. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder last spring, and frustrated by the enduring systemic inequality around them, the two students co-founded the school’s Black and Brown Student Coalition (BBSC).

Sixty years after the Mighty Tigers’ undefeated season, students of color at Carrboro High School still face institutional racism, including an achievement gap that’s a bastion of white supremacy.

With an intention that would make Mason Jr. proud, this generation is doing something about it.

And until his graduation in May, one of the authors and BBSC co-founders— Phoenix Garayùa-Tudryn—was a quarterback at Carrboro High. 

In this three-part series, Joel Sronce documents the role that the Mighty Tigers football team from Chapel Hill-Carrboro’s segregated Lincoln High School played in the movement for civil rights. Their struggle still resonates today as systemic racism endures. Sixty years later, a youth-led movement grows anew, and is once again shouldered by stars of a Carrboro gridiron.

In Part III next week: Six decades after the movement for civil rights in Chapel Hill-Carrboro, in the absence of solutions provided by other means, young people once again have to shoulder the burdens of the reality they face. Bringing the legacies of Lincoln into the present, Part III tells the story of the football players who help lead the BBSC and continue the local struggle for social justice today.