They paved
the way

Throughout Carolina's history, there have been several pioneers who have broken down barriers for the generations of students to follow. Their courageous examples moved UNC-Chapel Hill closer to the ideal of the University of the people.

As the University celebrates Black History Month this February, learn more about Tar Heels who paved the way for a more inclusive university.

Harvey Beech, James Lassiter, J. Kenneth Lee, Floyd McKissick and James Robert Walker enrolled in the UNC School of Law in 1951, following a court order that said the Law School must admit Black students. They became the first African American students at Carolina. After they enrolled, other graduate and professional schools at Carolina began admitting African American students.

Four students sitting and talking to each other.

The same legal ruling that opened the door for Carolina’s first African American law students also made way for Oscar Diggs, in 1951, to become the first African American to attend Carolina’s medical school. Diggs graduated in 1955, becoming the first African American doctor of medicine from the University.

By the mid-1950s, Black students were admitted to the College of Arts & Sciences.

Two men sitting on the front steps of a house, one in graduation regalia.

When Karen Parker arrived at UNC-Chapel Hill in 1963, she was the first African American undergraduate woman to enroll at the University. At Carolina, she continued to fight for her rights while earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

As a student, Parker kept a diary of her experiences at Carolina, including descriptions of her arrests on campus. Parker donated the diary to the Southern Historical Collection of UNC Libraries in 2006.

Karen Parker

Hortense McClinton was the first Black professor hired at Carolina, accepting an appointment with the UNC School of Social Work in 1966 and retiring in 1984. During her time on faculty, she regularly taught courses on casework, human development, family therapy and institutional racism.

McClinton also helped to establish the predecessor organization to the Carolina Black Caucus and worked with various units on campus to improve services for students with disabilities. In 2022, the University renamed a residence hall after McClinton.

Hortense McClinton sitting in front of a dormitory named after her on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill.

A legacy continued

The work hasn’t stopped with these trailblazers and history makers. Today’s Tar Heels are continuing the traditions of Carolina's Black pioneers by working toward a more inclusive and stronger future that is propelling the University and communities forward.

Whether it’s through amplifying the voices of underrepresented students, shining a light on culture, conducting crucial research or creating new opportunities for others to thrive, current students and faculty are continuing to break down barriers and pave the way for new generations.

Student spotlight