Student Leaders: Lessons in racial politics at NC State

September 11, 2013
By Bill Krueger

It didn’t take long for Eric Moore to learn that his time as an African-American student at NC State in the late 1960s would have its share of challenges.

Not long after he moved into Sullivan Hall as a freshman, Moore found a sign on his door that read, “SPONGE is out to get you.” Moore was puzzled by the sign, so he asked some older African-American students about it.

“So they smiled and said, ‘Oh, yes, SPONGE stands for the Society for the Prevention Of N-word Getting Everything — S-P-O-N-G-E,'” Moore recalled in an interview with NCSU Libraries for the Student Leadership Initiative, an effort to chronicle the experiences of student leaders during their time on campus. “So they laughed and said, ‘Yeah, you know, it’s just somebody trying to scare you. But we’ve never seen them in the years that we’ve been here.”

Moore said he was on guard after the incident, and said he would sometimes “hear words reflecting a lack of respect coming your way” as he walked across campus. He said that just meant he had to “toughen up” and go about his goal of getting a college degree.

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Moore, second from left, next to Chancellor John T. Caldwell

But Moore did more than earn a degree at NC State.

Moore was serving in the Student Senate when some of the others involved in student government suggested he should run for president of the Student Senate. At the time, the position was the rough equivalent of vice president of the student body. Moore agreed to run, but was mindful of the challenges facing an African-American student in a campus-wide election.

Moore worked at WKNC, next door to the offices of the Technician, so he asked the editor of the student newspaper not to run a photo of him before the election “because that might have an impact on whether I would get elected or not.” Moore figured that even his name would keep some students from realizing who he was — “Fortunately that didn’t sound much like an African-American name, so it’s, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m voting for Eric Moore.'”

Moore was elected, becoming the first African-American student to hold the position. With the results in, Moore’s photo finally ran in the Technician, and Moore said one of his friends overheard a conversation among a group of students who were troubled to learn that they had voted for an African-American candidate. “You mean to tell me I voted for … ?” Moore said in recalling what his friend relayed to him.

Moore used his position to push for greater student involvement on campus, and supported the university’s participation in a rally as part of the nationwide Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam. He also pushed to require all students to take at least two courses in African-American studies.

Moore’s work with student government gave him a chance to get to know Chancellor John T. Caldwell. At one event, Moore was surprised to see a J.C. Penny label inside Caldwell’s suit jacket. “I’m thinking, the chancellor of NC State University is wearing J.C. Penny suits?” he said. “They look great, but it gave me a whole new perspective about what may be under the label.”

Caldwell served as a role model for Moore, and helped him get into graduate school by calling an administrator at Ohio University to recommend Moore.

“That was again something else that he would do for people he cared for, and I’ve always appreciated that,” Moore said. “There were strategic folk on campus who would look beyond race and just basically dealt with you as a person, and I’ve always enjoyed that about my relationship with State. It’s been good.”

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One Response to “Student Leaders: Lessons in racial politics at NC State”

  1. Bob G says:

    Other than “the late ’60’s” the article fails to give actual dates. I was a student from 1965-1975. Although Mr. Moore’s name seems familiar, the only student body president name I remember is Plow, largely because of his campaign. Although I’m wouldn’t doubt Mr. Moore experienced some race-related difficulties as a student during that time, I really can’t recall thinking the election of anyone to student body president as exceptional. Neither do I recall any of my acquaintances and friends making an issue of it. I think as a whole, the student body was pretty laid back about the issue of race.

    Mr. Moore should be congratulated on his successes.

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