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While many tributes for UNC-Chapel Hill basketball coach Dean Smith have focused on his unparalleled record on the court, a group of Carolina students came together Tuesday night to celebrate Smith as a champion for civil rights.

Dozens huddled together in the cold at a memorial outside the basketball arena that bears Smith’s name and read passages from his book, The Carolina Way. They also recalled stories of how he worked to integrate Chapel Hill restaurants and ensure that all people were treated equally, no matter the color of their skin.

“I wanted to make sure that the minority community was aware of that and had the chance to mourn that loss,” student organizer Ashley Winkfield said. “Dean Smith was an amazing, incredible man. … There was so much more to him as a person than just (basketball).”

Winkfield worked with students from the Black Student Movement, the UNC NAACP and the National Pan-Hellenic Council to organize the event.

“His civil rights accomplishments are very near and dear to our communities and I feel like he should be honored for these accomplishments, as well as the ones on the court,” BSM president Trey Mangum said. “I feel like it’s noteworthy to show that we have a civil rights hero here who definitely did a lot for people of color at this university.”

UNC’s Associate Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs and Chief Diversity Officer Taffye Benson Clayton was among the speakers at the vigil, and shared how the values Smith learned as a child shaped his worldview as an adult.

“Whether it was taking a black theology student to the segregated restaurant where the basketball team ate its pre-game meals or assisting a black grad student in buying a house in an all-white Chapel Hill neighborhood in 1965, Dean Smith cared,” Clayton said. “Dean Smith acted.”

Winkfield closed the vigil by encouraging the students who attended to act in the same ways Smith did, and to seek positive change wherever possible.

“Let us honor his truth and the values he lived by,” she said.

By Philip Jones, Office of Communications and Public Affairs

Published February 12, 2015