The John “Yonni” Chapman Library for Peace and Justice is a community library hosted at the Jackson Center. John K. Chapman, lovingly known as Yonni, was an educator and fierce advocate for civil and labor rights in the U.S. South. In 2009, Yonni lost a 30-year battle against cancer. His commitment to Black liberation and social justice in central North Carolina inspired his family to donate his private book collection for the use of our neighbors in Northside and beyond.

The MCJC maintains the Yonni Chapman Library for Peace and Justice for community use. The library houses books related to institutional racism, Black histories, social justice, and Black liberation. The library is available in the Jackson Center on Rosemary Street in Chapel Hill. We encourage you to come in and access the library – no appointment needed. We hope to see you!

“In the course of organizing, I heard innumerable stories about the struggles of African Americans in Chapel Hill and at UNC. People told stories as a way of sharing their pain and joy and the lessons of their lives. I began to appreciate these stories as part of a rich history and tradition. It also appeared that this legacy was endangered. The stories were part of an oral tradition that was virtually unknown outside of the black community and in danger of being lost with the passage of time.

When I decided to attend graduate school in the late 1980s, one of my goals was to help pull together, preserve, and make accessible the freedom legacy hinted at by the stories I had heard. I felt that this history, full of defeat, dead ends, and personal tragedy, also abounded in triumph, lessons, and human growth. I believed that every aspect of such a history was worth preserving as a resource in the ongoing struggle to enlarge democracy in America.”

Yonni Chapman

Born in Ohio, Yonni graduated from Harvard University in 1969 and moved south to fight racial discrimination in Atlanta, Georgia. After becoming a certified laboratory technician, he relocated to Chapel Hill for work at the University hospital. Immediately, Yonni became involved in community advocacy and organized with workers and students against institutional racism. Over the next three decades, Yonni supported numerous progressive movements including the Workers Viewpoint Organization, Chapel Hill Tenants Organization, the New Democratic Movement, the Carrboro-Chapel Hill NCAAP branch, and co-founded the Orange County Rainbow Coalition of Conscience with Fred Battle.

Yonni earned a Ph.D. in history from UNC-Chapel Hill. There, he wrote two of the most dynamic histories of local Black activism ever produced.

Several bookshelves filled with books in the Yonni Chapman Library at the Marian Cheek Jackson Center

Published in 1995, Yonni’s thesis, Second Generation: Black Youth and the Origins of the Chapel Hill Civil Rights Movement, 1937-1963, shared how the “movement grew out of the lives of local Black activists.” Listening to the wisdom of Vivian Foushee, Yonni aimed to help advance Black empowerment through community-wide conversations engendered by the oral histories that informed his research.

Entitled Black Freedom and the University of North Carolina, 1793-1960, Yonni’s dissertation contributed the most comprehensive study of Black history at UNC when it was published in 2006. Correcting the uncritical celebration of the University, Yonni traced UNC’s white supremacist past to illustrate its legacy of “diversity without justice.” Yonni revealed how UNC perpetuated slavery, then Jim Crow, and eventually subtler versions of institutional racism. His research credits any of UNC’s institutional progress with a century of Black freedom movements that challenged the University to practice democratic citizenship.

Yonni’s books, which retell these significant Black histories, are housed within the John “Yonni” Chapman Library for Peace and Justice. We hope you visit!