Today in our “August 1963” series, we hear from Fred Battle. Battle was a football star for the Mighty Tigers of Chapel Hill’s Lincoln High School, before being awarded an athletic scholarship to North Carolina A&T in Greensboro. It was there that his participation in civil rights actions expanded.
My name is Fred Battle, and in August of 1963 I was entering into my sophomore year at North Carolina A&T State University. And we were up in the D.C. area where we were playing Quantico Marines in a football game.
After the game, we went into Washington, D.C., to drop off some of the players that lived in Washington. And we could see the large gathering that was taking place on the March on Washington. And if you had your windows down, you could hear some of the speeches, you know, during the time that we were passing by.
You know, we knew we were involved in a segregated society during that time. And I think everybody wanted to make some changes, you know. And there had been a number of attempts to desegregate the lunch counters at Woolworth’s—most of the students from not only A&T but from Bennett College, also. And for some reason or other, the momentum didn’t last or whatever. But the one in ’63 is when people were willing to go to jail for it, so…and as a result, you know, we filled up the jails. And they had to make added spaces for us in abandoned rest homes and stuff like that in order for us to get arrested. They didn’t have nowhere to house us.
It wasn’t that bad, you know. Female students lived there also, you know, in the residential area where they were on one side and we were on the other side. But we all came together when it was time to socialize or whatever. And then the community would come. They were participating. They bought us food, sodas and everything like that, you know. It was a momentum—not only did it bring the students together, but it also brought the community together.
Battle graduated from North Carolina A&T and returned home to work for Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation, serving as the director of Hargraves Center and later as Parks Superintendent. In 1987, he founded the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP and served as branch president for over 20 years. Battle lives in Chapel Hill.