In 1929, 134 years after the first students came to UNC, Henry Owl (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) became the first American Indian student on UNC’s campus. He earned a Master’s degree in history, which was housed in this building. Owl’s thesis is titled “The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians: Before and After the Removal.”
In 1930, the Swain County registrar used a literacy test to prevent Cherokees from voting. Owl presented his UNC master’s thesis as proof he could read. County officials then denied him on the argument that Cherokees were not U.S. citizens, despite a 1924 federal law that made all Indians citizens. Owl eventually testified before Congress about this discrimination, which resulted in a law that guaranteed the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians citizenship and the right to vote.
In this brief excerpt of Henry Owl’s 180-page thesis, one can read themes of tribal sovereignty, nationhood and determination as well as discrimination.