The first African-American woman undergraduate to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Karen L. Parker was born in Salisbury, N.C., and grew up in Winston-Salem, N.C. Parker worked for the Winston-Salem Journal before attending UNC-Chapel Hill. She majored in journalism and was elected vice-president of the UNC Press Club and served as editor of the UNC Journalist, the School of Journalism’s newspaper, in 1964. After graduating in 1965, Parker was a copy editor for the Grand Rapids Press in Grand Rapids, Mich. She also worked for the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers before returning to the Winston-Salem Journal.
The collection is Karen L. Parker’s diary with entries dated 5 November 1963-11 August 1966 and is housed in The Southern Historical Collection at the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library. The entries appear regularly every few weeks in the beginning of the diary and gradually appear less often, ending with entries every several months. Parker began the diary while she was a student majoring in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. One of the first entries concerns the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, her observations of reactions in Chapel Hill to the assassination, and her own thoughts and feelings about it. Diary entries describe her experiences as the first African American woman undergraduate to attend UNC-Chapel Hill, her involvement with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), her participation in civil rights demonstrations against segregation in Chapel Hill, and her arrest after entering a segregated Chapel Hill restaurant.
An entry dated 30 April 1964 describes the visit of former segregationist governor of Mississippi Ross R. Barnett to the UNC-Chapel Hill campus and his remarks about the inferiority of African Americans. The diary also includes entries detailing Parker’s observations and experiences concerning race relations and discrimination in Grand Rapids, Mich., while copy editor for the Grand Rapids Press and her changing views of the civil rights movement as she considered the merits of self-defense as opposed to non-violent resistance. Entries throughout the diary describe her thoughts about where she belonged as an educated African-American female during the civil rights era. The Addition of February 2008 consists of a letter from Katherine Kennedy Carmichael, Dean of Women at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to Karen L. Parker’s mother, F.D. Parker, concerning Karen L. Parker’s arrest on 19 December 1963. Also included are newspaper clippings about Karen L. Parker’s accomplishments as a journalism student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.