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Paving the way

When they set foot on campus in 1951, Carolina’s first Black students broke down barriers for the generations of students who followed. They moved UNC-Chapel Hill closer to the ideal of the University of the people, but they were just the start.

As the University celebrates Black History Month this February, meet the students whose fearlessness transformed Carolina for the better and the young Tar Heels who have continued to work toward a more inclusive and stronger future.

The Old Well

Carolina’s Black Pioneers

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 Black students at Carolina.

“I just felt like we ought to open up all the windows and doors and air it all out,” Beech said. “If I hadn’t, some other child would have had to. Something had to be done — it wasn’t pleasant. We won a war for something that had been denied to other Black boys.”

Four men sit in a dorm room.

Continuing progress

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

The court ruling was just the beginning of what would reshape the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to be a more inclusive campus over the next several decades. More Tar Heels continued paving the way and breaking down more barriers.

  • Leroy Frasier, John Lewis Brandon and Ralph Frasier stand on the steps of South Building

    In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed all forms of segregation in public schools, and the following year, courts ordered that Black undergraduate students be admitted to the University. Leroy Frasier, John Lewis Brandon and Ralph Frasier were the firsts.

    Meet more Carolina firsts

  • Karen Parker

    When Karen Parker arrived at Carolina in 1963, she was the first Black undergraduate woman to enroll at the University. While at Carolina, she continued to fight for her rights while earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

    Read Karen Parker's story

  • Preston Dobbins.

    In 1967, Preston Dobbins established the Black Student Movement — an organization that has played a role in nearly every significant advancement for Black students at Carolina, including the founding of the Department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies and the creation of what is now called the University Office for Diversity and Inclusion.

    Learn more about the Black Student Movement

Making new history

The work hasn’t stopped with these trailblazers and history makers. Today’s Tar Heels are continuing to propel the University and nation forward.

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

Meet some of the Tar Heels who are making history on campus and in their fields today.