My Tar Heel Heritage

Southerners have a way of looking askance at Yankees who tell them about themselves, but I figure I’m covered. Even though I’m a Minnesotan born and bred (isn’t that a strange thing for a Jew to say?) my daddy is a Tar Heel.

My father lived in Boston, but he didn’t apply to Harvard. In the 1930s Harvard had a Jewish quota, as did Columbia. Shame on both of them.

But I don’t know why he was drawn to the University of North Carolina. Perhaps it was the story of the university’s progressive president, Frank Porter Graham, who led the fight to end the medical school’s quota in the 1930s. Or perhaps it was on the word of a friend or a former classmate, who spread the word about the university’s tolerant admissions policies and low tuition.

Whatever the reason, my father became a Tar Heel in 1941, studying economics and joining the Jewish fraternity, Tau Epsilon Phi. Like many of his fraternity brothers, he interrupted his education to enlist in the army. In the 1943 yearbook, Tau Epsilon Phi remembered “philosopher Melvin Waldfogel, who wanted to fight and got stuck in South Dakota, studying again…”

(I laughed out loud to find confirmation of the story I’d always heard over the dinner table. My father spent the war stationed in frigid South Dakota, learning how to be a radio operator.)

He came back to Chapel Hill in 1947 and graduated with honors a year later. He recalls his college years fondly, and is still in touch with one of his old fraternity brothers.

So there you have it: my Tar Heel heritage. I reckon I can write about the South.


Sources: Leonard Rogoff, Homelands: Southern Jewish Identity in Durham and Chapel Hill, North Carolina (University of Alabama Press, 2001), pp 161-3, and Yackety Yak, University of North Carolina Yearbook, 1943.