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For immediate use

Nov. 27, 2001 -- No. 606

Carolina to celebrate 50 years of African-American students

UNC News Services

CHAPEL HILL -- Fifty years ago, in June 1951, the first black students ever at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill began law school. That fall brought the UNC medical school's first black student. The first three black freshmen enrolled in fall 1955.

To mark these milestones and the courage of those students, Carolina will celebrate 50 years of African-American student enrollment in a free public ceremony Friday (Nov. 30). Five people who marked important firsts in black leadership at the university will be honored.

UNC law professor Charles Daye will speak during the event, which will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the Great Hall of the Frank Porter Graham Student Union. UNC Provost Robert Shelton will read a proclamation from Chancellor James Moeser, recognizing the 2001-2002 academic year as the 50th anniversary of the admission of the first African-American students at UNC.

Sponsored by UNC's Black Student Movement, Office for Minority Affairs and Office for Student Academic Counseling, the event will be one of several this academic year to observe the anniversary, as well as part of the movement's annual BSM Month commemorating its founding in 1967.

The five UNC honorees, all expected to be present, will be:

Hortense McClinton, first black female faculty member, School of Social Work, now retired in Chapel Hill;

Hayden B. Renwick, founding director of the Office for Student Counseling and a former associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, now retired in Charlotte;

Carl Smith, first black administrator appointed to the provost's office, now retired in Raleigh;

Harold G. Wallace of Durham, first black vice chancellor, who came to UNC in 1973 and retired as special assistant to the chancellor for minority affairs in 1999; and

Edith Wiggins, first black female vice chancellor, now a member of the Chapel Hill Town Council.

As for those pioneering students in the '50s, Harvey Beech, J. Kenneth Lee, Floyd McKissick and James Robert Walker Jr. were the four black law students enrolled in June 1951. McKissick and other black students had sued in federal court, arguing that a state law school for blacks in Durham was not equal to that in Chapel Hill. In March 1951, a U.S. Court of Appeals agreed and ordered their admission at UNC.

By that time, McKissick had earned his law degree at the Durham school, but he took one summer course at UNC. McKissick, who died in 1991, went on to become a national civil rights leader.

Beech, now retired in Kinston, and Walker became successful lawyers in eastern North Carolina, as did Lee, in Greensboro. Lee helped found American Federal Savings and Loan Association and was the first African-American appointed to the state banking commission. Walker also received an NAACP Distinguished Service Award, was named Lawyer of the Year in 1978 by the National Lawyers' Guild in Detroit, became a minister and directed the United Voters League of Halifax County.

That fall, Edward O. Diggs of Winston-Salem became the first black medical student. He went on to operate his own practice in High Point from 1956-59, then work at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C., where he retired in 1978.

The first three black undergraduates, enrolled in fall 1955, were:

John Lewis Brandon, now retired as a senior research chemist with Dow Chemical Corp. in Houston and working part time at Houston Community College, teaching and helping to develop new science programs; and brothers

LeRoy Benjamin Frasier Jr., who later transferred to N.C. Central University and became a teacher on Long Island, N.Y. He is retired in Brooklyn; and

Ralph Kennedy Frasier, who also transferred later to NCCU, where he received a law degree. He worked for more than 30 years in banking, retiring in 1998 from Huntington Bancshares Inc., in Columbus, Ohio. Now he works part time as a senior adviser to law firms in Columbus and Durham. He has served on the Ohio Board of Regents and as a trustee at NCCU.

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Contact: Dr. Archie Ervin, assistant to the chancellor and director, Office of Minority Affairs, 919-962-6962