The Integration of UNC-Chapel Hill – Law School First
30 Pages Posted: 2 Jan 2019 Last revised: 1 Mar 2019
Date Written: August 30, 2018
In June 1951, five African-Americans, Harvey Beech, James Lassiter, J. Kenneth Lee, Floyd McKissick, and James Robert Walker enrolled in classes at the law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Carolina Law). Their enrollment and attendance at Carolina Law was the result of years of efforts to desegregate higher education in the U.S. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) litigated case after case, building precedent for U.S. Supreme Court challenges to racial segregation, in education and in all areas of society. McKissick v. Carmichael, the 1951 case that removed the legal barrier to African-American admission to Carolina Law, was one of those cases.
This article builds upon the work of scholars like Charles Daye, Augustus M. Burns III, and Wendy Scott, who have chronicled the history of African-Americans at Carolina Law, and the work of numerous scholars who have chronicled other aspects of the struggle for racial equality. This work fills a space in the scholarship by telling the deeper story of how these men came to be the first, how their case fit into the context of a broader civil rights campaign, and how that experience shaped the young men’s lives and the lives of many others. It developed from my involvement in a project by the Kathrine R. Everett Law Library to build a digital collection of material recognizing the young men who integrated Carolina Law, and highlighting the legal battle that brought them to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill). The digital collection documents the events surrounding that history-making integration of Carolina Law, which was also the first integration of the entire UNC-Chapel Hill campus. The article outlines events before, during and after the young men’s groundbreaking attendance. It is gleaned from news accounts, university and organization archives, oral histories, scholarly writings, and documented interviews. It starts by setting the stage, outlining the background surrounding the young men’s enrollment. It then discusses challenges that they dealt with during and after their time at UNC-Chapel Hill, and some ways in which they and the people around them handled those challenges.
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