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“I’m a Tar Heel born, I’m a Tar Heel bred, and when I die I’m a Tar Heel dead”

The quote in the title is an excerpt from “I’m a Tar Heel Born,” the fight song of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Fans of the University sing the fight song at the conclusion of school sporting events, to demonstrate figuratively their devotion to the university and its athletics efforts.

Two student organizations on campus, which pre-date the fight song, have throughout their existence applied a more literal interpretation of the quote. The Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies (“Di-Phi”), the oldest student organization at any public university in the United States, was formed originally as the Debating Society in 1795.  have historically provided funeral and burial expenses for organization members who pass away during their time at UNC.  The groups have plots in the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery on campus.

Minutes preserved by the organization online show the group discussing recently-deceased members and arranging to cover funeral expenses. In one such meeting on September 30, 1833, the minutes document that group members were to wear crepe, or black bands, on their arms to mourn the lost of fallen member James T. Smith.  The minutes further ordered that representatives of the society would notify Mr. Smith’s father that “[the] society will pay all expenses incurred by burial of his son.”

The organization is not only the oldest on campus in Chapel Hill but also one with great influence of the shaping of the university over the years. Originally one group, the society split into two sects – the Dialectic Society and the Philanthropic Society. At first, every student was required to join one of the societies.  Its first order of business as a society was to order books for the university.  The Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies respectively adopted the official colors of light blue (symbolizing the blue ribbons holding significance in the nearby agricultural communities) and white (symbolizing truth and virtue). They pre-dated an official school government and established their two colors as the university’s official school colors to counter schools like the University of Virginia and Wake Forest, who exhibited school colors at athletic contests.

The groups also founded many organizations on campus, such as the General Alumni Association, the Yackety-Yack yearbook, and many academic schools.  It is only fitting then that their tradition of honoring death would come to be memorialized in the school’s fight song and become the (Carolina Blue) lifeblood of the university.

Charlie Lane


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