The Lenoir Strike A Story Of Food And Fearlessness

Beyond The "Project"

"Order and structure are two things I need to feel most comfortable" - Tatiana Farmer (Reflexive Ethnography)

There is a fine line between immersion and observation, our experiences in Northside have helped us in our endeavor differentiate between the two. Upon first entering the field we were timid, ignorant, and above all, strategic. We had a set goal, an idea of what our final "project" was supposed to look like. This preconceived notion heavily influenced the way we interacted with our field partners, and the field itself. Our approach became cyclical: archival research, brainstorming, and a forced interaction with field partners. We were listening to advance our project, not to genuinely listen. As the semester went on, our experiences took on a deeper meaning, our relationships with field partners were fostered, and our connections to the Northside community were further developed. It was imperative that we learned to let go of our own intentions and let our experiences take on a mind of their own.

This experience was not about "order" and "structure", it was about learning to relinquish control that we as a university, as a student body, are so used to having over our work.

When working with field partners, we must remind ourselves time and time again that we are working with people not "subjects" for study or research. For this reason, we tried our best to acknowledge that partnership goes both ways. We cannot just take stories and move on, but rather, we need to take a step back and acknowledge the gravity of what we've been entrusted to portray.

We must show our field partners that their voices have been heard and appreciated.

The mug we gave Angela Bynum (field partner) for allowing us to speak with her about her Lenoir experience.

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Recognition is a large part of the Northside community; we see it on the gates of St. Josephs, read it in the pamphlets handed out during service, and hear it in the stories of the neighbors. We, as a university and student body, fail to reciprocate this recognition.

Recognition is woven into Northside, the Freedom Fighters gate is a great portrayal of such recognition.

The existence of the Lenoir Strikes is often omitted from the campus narrative and rarely ever makes it's way into the shared knowledge of UNC students and faculty. While some attempts have been made to spread awareness about the Lenoir Strike's impact on unionization and workers rights at UNC, it is often limited to a select few classes at UNC that not many students have the opportunity to take before graduating.

We stood outside of Lenoir and asked random members of the student body of their knowledge concerning the Lenoir Strikes of 1969. Out of close to fifteen students, only one had a sufficient answer after taking a class in which it was discussed. Admittedly, if we had been approached at the start of this course, we would be part of the majority who failed to give the right answer.

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University Relations

“Isn’t it time the university show concern for the individual over profit?” - boycott pamphlet, unc 1969

Exploring the university's response to the Lenoir Strike has helped us further understand our positionality in relation to Northside neighbors, especially as students are representatives of UNC. With the uneven power dynamic that has been exploited over Northside residents by the university in multiple historical contexts, including the Lenoir Strikes, we were much more conscientious about relinquishing our power in the field.

The protests of the Lenoir workers were met with militant and forceful action by the university and the chancellor at the time (Chancellor Sitterson). The national guard had been called in at one point, and many student arrests were made.

Below is a first hand account of the National Guard presence on campus through the eyes of Mary Smith, a former Lenoir worker and strike leader.

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Food at Work Vs. Food At Home

"Angie always brightens my day...she used to slide me some extra cookies every once and a while" - Mabel D'Souza

Our conversation with Angela Bynum was the pivotal point of our time in the field. We went into the meeting with preconceived ideas about food in the workplace, but our expectations of were flipped upside-down.

Before speaking with Angela we were under the impression that the mass production of food took all essence of meaning out of it. We painted a picture that allowed us to see the mass production as something that tainted the relational power of food, rather than increasing one's ability to share it. However, Angela's use of mass produced food shows that it's not the food itself, but those who make and serve it, that give it power.

Angela gave Tatiana five free meal swipes after hearing that she didn't have a meal plan for the semester.

Mama Kat reiterated this unexpected relationship with mass produced food as she details her extensive career (27 years) working in an elementary school cafeteria. In her voice you can hear how much food's importance at home outweighed the mass amount of food she had to produce on a day to day basis at her job.

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Progress Vs. Positivity

As we move forward in time, we are urged to as the question: Have we made true progress?

The same name, same building, same place, but the Lenoir we know today is a stark contrast from its former self. Although we cannot say that the conditions of the workers of Lenoir are perfect, we can acknowledge that the positivity of current Lenoir employees often outweigh the gradual progress that has been made.

First and foremost, there is a distinction to be made between progress and positivity. With the privatization of the dining hall services in 1969 after the first strike, it more so insured that the worker's problems were no longer the public universities problems. The university outsourced the dining services to SAGA corporation which in turn made it more difficult for them to be held liable for many of the grievances put forth by the workers of Lenoir.

When problems are just avoided or side-stepped rather than addressed, is this true progress? Or have employees, like Angela, become more positive about their environment?

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"From that day on, we became best friends... he's over seas now, and we communicate back and forth."- Angela Bynum

In our conversation with Angela, we discovered that although she works in a bakery, she prefers to cook and does not even like baking. Even so, Angela clearly loves her job and was able to do this by shaping her own environment.

Angela is a talkative person and enjoys chatting with her co-workers. She is always up to trying new foods as well and told us about how she tried Bok Choy at the dining hall one day, something she would not had done on her own.

Angela Bynum, Lenoir Bakery

Church as a pillar

The question is simple: Where does this strength come from?

"I'm not where I want to be, but thank God I'm not where I used to be." - Reverend Farrington

Throughout the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s, we see time and time again that faith and church is at the center of community and activism. There is always an appreciation for the blessings currently being enjoyed, an acknowledgment of progress already made, and a prayer for the long road ahead. There is a strong sense of humility, an understanding that we humans are nothing but "dry bones" until God breathes life into us and sets us into motion.

The bible verse at the center of the November 12 St. Josephs sermon

The movement recognizes the church and the church recognizes the movement.

Reverend Farrington referenced a song entitled "I'm Just a Nobody" by the Williams Brothers in the November 12th service. The line Reverend Farrington highlighted is a follows:

"I'm just a nobody trying to tell everybody, About somebody, who can save anybody."

In this, we can see how the faith detailed within the community is one of selflessness and humility. This is the same faith we see emulated by those who protested in the Lenoir Strike and participated in other forms of Civil Rights activism. The power is not in the people, but in the God who gives power to the people.

Student Appreciation

During The Strikes:

“Isn’t it time we students undergo a bit of inconvenience to support these workers who are fighting for their welfare and dignity…” - BOYcott pamphlet, unc 1969

During the Lenoir Strike, many students stood behind the movement. In fact, the students of the BSM (Black Student Movement) teamed up with the food strikers in 1968 when they presented Chancellor Sitterson with their own list of 23 demands that featured a call to "begin working immediately to alleviate the intolerable working conditions of the Black non-academic employees".

In other cases, when the BSM failed to have a place to congregate, they were offered the Upendo lounge (which used to be a part of Chase Dining hall) during the 1970s and 80s as a meeting place. There was open dialogue of appreciation between employees and workers, and it's strength peaked during the 1969 strikes.

Below is an example of students participating in active protest with the Lenoir Workers, as detailed by Elizabeth Brooks, a food worker and prominent leader of the strike. The BSM was very involved in the movement, that was how they expressed their solidarity and apprecaition.

Students of the BSM collecting money to pay fines for peers who were charged in the peaceful protest of turning Lenoir tables upside down.


"Yeah, they leave me little notes saying how great I am, saying: Ms. Angie's wonderful, ms. Angie bakes the best cookies...It makes you feel like you're appreciated" - Angela Bynum

Although student involvement is not as it was in the past, we can still see small gestures of appreciation from the student body to the dining staff today. A napkin board is present in Lenoir dining hall, this is a place where students can express their gratitude to the staff. If you walk by it one day, you may find a message for Ms. Angela proclaiming that she makes the “best cookies”.

Napkin Board from Lenoir Dining Hall

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The Essence of Time

Time is fluid. After being so bogged down in the archival research of the Lenoir Strike, we failed to see how history was unfolding right in front of our eyes. It took us a while to take a step back and realize that not every aspect of our experience had to be linear or chronological. The past impacts the present, the present will soon be the past. The Lenoir Strike and the history of protest on campus is a great way to uncover the essence of time and what it truly means to be understand the relationship between ourselves and those who came before us.

A boycott flyer from 1969 Lenoir Strike juxtaposed with a boycott flyer from 2017 Silent Sam Protests.

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As detailed above, the past and present are more paralleled than most would like to think. In the discussion of protest, it is important that we discuss the legacy that the Lenoir Strikes have left on UNC's campus.

The UNC Housekeeping Association (1980) and Silent Sam Protests (2017)

The Lenoir Strike set a precedence for how other protests on campus were organized. After multiple failed attempts to protest and unionize throughout the 1930s and 1940s (Janitor's Association), the Lenoir Strike's success lead by example. Multiple protests, including the extremely successful UNC Housekeepers Association of the 1980s/90s and the ongoing Silent Sam Protests have been modeled after the Lenoir Strikes of 1969.

The audio clip below shows just one way in which the current Silent Sam protests have been shaped by the Lenoir Strikes. It was during the boycott on UNC's food services that students created their first alternative food cafeteria "Soul Food Cafeteria" in Manning Hall (the building behind Lenoir). The Campus Y was officially unaffiliated with either side of the conflict at the time, but many of them personally supported the strikers. Today, the Campus Y is outwardly showing support for the Silent Sam protesters, and has even gone as far to create similar alternative food options for UNC students who participated in food boycotts against UNC this September and October.

Campus Y alternative meals during UNC Boycott for Silent Same (2017)

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Lingering Questions

After months grappling with our understanding of conventional university practices and our Northside involvement, we have decided that the difference between a "project" and an immersive experience is as follows:

Project: A project is linear. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It's often formulaic and strategic in its development. It's entire purpose is to create a final, finished product; one that is perfect, certain, and without flaw.

Immersive Experience: An immersive experience is webbed, rather than linear. It does not have a set path, instead, pieces of information ebb and flow out of one another. In an immersive experience there is no final product or certain conclusion, only more questions.


  1. As carriers of this information and holders of this story, are we obligated to continue sharing it? If so, what are the repercussions of spreading such awareness? What would we hope to accomplish?
  2. How might we move forward in our relationship with Northside as UNC students knowing the injustices that many Northside residents have faced (and still face) as employees here on campus?
  3. To what extent do we carry the weight of the past into the present and future?

Jess Casimir - Tatiana Farmer - Raymundo Garcia

Archival References

Abadi, M. (2017, September 13). Students are threatening to sue the University of North Carolina over its Confederate statue. Retrieved November 16, 2017, from http://www.businessinsider.com/silent-sam-lawsuit-unc-confederate-statue-2017-9

An Overlooked History. (2016, February 25). Retrieved November 11, 2017, from http://synapsemag.org/overlooked-history/

Foodworkers' Strike. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2017, from https://exhibits.lib.unc.edu/exhibits/show/protest/foodworker-essay

Story Map Journal. (n.d.). Retrieved November 15, 2017, from https://unc.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=892230cd55694e95b6ec29ba9f62a9ed

The Black Student Movement: History. (n.d.). Retrieved November 20, 2017, from http://www.uncbsm.com/history/

UNC Foodworkers’ Strikes of 1969. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2017, from http://sohp.org/2017/08/23/unc-foodworkers-strikes-of-1969/

UNC Labor History. (2012, January 26). Retrieved November 13, 2017, from https://uncsaw.wordpress.com/unc-labor-history/

Created By
Jess Casimir

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