Campus News

University to install memorial honoring James Cates

The University’s Board of Trustees approved a permanent memorial for the Pit, where the Chapel Hill man was stabbed and died in 1970.

The bell tower at UNC-CH in summer.

The University will install a permanent memorial honoring Chapel Hill resident James Lewis Cates Jr., Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz announced in an Aug. 12 campus message. In 1970, Cates, a 22-year-old Black man, was stabbed in the Pit outside Frank Porter Graham Student Union and died “as a victim of racial violence.”

The University’s Board of Trustees approved the plan for a memorial in the Pit, continuing a 2020 initiative to tell the story of Cates’ death.  

In the decades that followed, many in the community were not aware of the incident. Guskiewicz said scholars, town officials and members of Cates’ family have worked to continue to shed light on the tragic event through the Center for the Study of the American South’s website. 

The Cates Memorial is another step in Build Our Community Together, the first initiative in the University’s strategic plan, Carolina Next: Innovations for the Public Good. It builds on other key milestones from the past year including renaming buildings for Hortense McClinton and Henry Owl, Carolina’s first Black professor and American Indian student, respectively, along with opening a new Asian American Center on Cameron Avenue. 

“Our work to be a more diverse and inclusive University takes time, and I appreciate our community’s devotion to these efforts,” Guskiewicz said in the message. 

Guskiewicz said the memorial will be installed later this year and was developed in close partnership with the Cates family with input and advocacy from students, faculty and staff. 

“The Board was committed to listening to members of our Carolina community, including alumni, faculty and students, during this process,” said Board of Trustees Chair David L. Boliek Jr. “This memorial honors James Cates and what his life meant to the University and Chapel Hill, and hopefully this will help bring our campus and community together.” 

“I am grateful to the Board of Trustees for approving the memorial and to the Town of Chapel Hill for its support,” said Guskiewicz. 

Details about the historic memorial dedication will be available at a later date. 

“I thank our faculty, staff and students who have contributed to these efforts and so many others that help us be a place where everyone truly belongs,” Guskiewicz said.