LeRoy Frasier, a trailblazing pioneer who, along with his brother and another high school student, was among the first African-American undergraduate students to challenge segregation at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has died at the age of 80.
According to the Associated Press, family members confirmed Tuesday that Frasier, a longtime English teacher, died Dec. 29 at a hospital in New York City after suffering heart failure.
Frasier, his brother Ralph and John Lewis Brandon were all students at Hillside High School in Durham, N.C., when they took the chance to apply at the still-segregated UNC-Chapel Hill in 1955.
AP notes that while four black students had been admitted to UNC’s law school when the Frasiers and Brandon applied, no black undergraduates had been accepted. Some students from the university came to the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs in search of students to challenge the school in light of the landmark Supreme Court ruling of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.
Those UNC students met with the principal of Hillside High School, a black school, to find families whose jobs could not be threatened in the expected backlash. The Frasier brothers’ parents worked for North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Co., which was owned by African Americans. Their uncle was the chief executive officer, so the brothers took the plunge.
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The young men were rejected until a federal court judge ordered the university to admit them.
UNC-Chapel Hill begrudgingly admitted the young men, but they were still not welcome everywhere. Ralph Frasier, 79, who currently lives in Jacksonville, Fla., told AP that the golf course and the university-owned restaurant and hotel were all off-limits. During football games, the trio was made to sit in a section with custodial workers, who were black. All three lived on their own floor of a section of a dormitory. And they had to get a special dispensation to use the swimming pool.
“There were pockets of hostility among students primarily,” Ralph Frasier recalled. “But some of the administrators were less than welcoming. Some faculty were less than welcoming.”
The brothers persevered for three years under the hostile, racist environment at Chapel Hill until Ralph joined the Army and LeRoy left for the Peace Corps. Ralph Frasier said that their treatment at the university was one of the reasons they left the school.
The Frasier brothers later completed their education and graduated from what is now known as North Carolina Central University, a historically black university in Durham.
The two brothers, born a mere 14 months apart, and with Ralph starting his education earlier, grew up very close. They attended their school years in the same grade and of course attended Chapel Hill at the same time. According to Ralph, they spoke by phone almost every day and last spoke on Christmas Day.
“We were best friends for life,” Ralph Frasier said.
In the years that have passed since the Frasiers and Brandon attended UNC-Chapel Hill, the school has attempted to make amends for the students’ treatment at the time, inviting them to speak at the school and naming scholarships after them.
The school released a statement Tuesday upon LeRoy Frasier’s death, noting his accomplishments.
“LeRoy was a true pioneer and historic figure in Carolina’s history, and his legacy of leadership, courage and self-sacrifice made a lasting impact on our university community,” Chancellor Carol L. Folt said in the statement. “LeRoy’s contributions to Carolina will live on through our students who receive scholarships bearing his name.”
However, although the school and the times have changed, Ralph Frasier noted that maybe a lot hasn’t, pointing out that a statue of a Confederate solider, “Silent Sam,” remains on campus after all these years.
“There’s still some distance to go,” Ralph Frasier said.
Read more at the Associated Press.