First black students' 55th anniversary honored

Honorees discuss their experiences

55thanniversaryBJDworak

First black students John Lewis Brandon and Ralph and LeRoy Frasier were honored at Saturday’s football game for the 55th anniversary of desegregation at UNC by Chancellor Holden Thorp and Vice Chancellor Winston Crisp.

Freshman Kori White thought diversity at the University was lacking, and she considered leaving.

But after attending a discussion Friday with the first black undergraduates to attend UNC, White said she decided to stay.

“The entire lecture was inspiring,” White said. “If you missed it, you missed a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

White was one of more than 100 people to celebrate the 55th anniversary of John Lewis Brandon and Ralph and LeRoy Frasier’s enrollment at UNC on Friday at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center.

After the lecture, some retired to a reception where students eagerly awaited the chance to speak with them one-on-one.

The next day, students cheered as the three were honored at Kenan Stadium before the kickoff of UNC’s football game against Georgia Tech.

The three enrolled in the University in 1955, one year after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision declared racial segregation in schools to be unconstitutional.

Ralph Frasier said he was a student at Hillside High School in Durham in 1955, when representatives from the Campus Y visited to recruit eligible black students to apply for admission to UNC.

He said that according to the Campus Y, if the school could find African-American students interested in applying to the University, those students would receive a warm reception.

The principal of Hillside High School at the time met with a community committee, of which the Frasiers’ father was a part, to determine whether the benefits of applying to and enrolling in school would reach the wider community.

“What they did wasn’t for them,” said Marie Washington, a daughter of Ralph Frasier. “It was for other African-Americans and for their parents.”

Ultimately, the pros overcame the cons, and his parents were the driving force behind his enrollment, Frasier said.

But when they arrived, Frasier said he, his brother LeRoy and Brandon were not greeted with open arms.

“In the ’50s, if I was walking on the campus sidewalk — I don’t mean to suggest it was a fearful situation — but I would be wary of the people walking around. Some people wouldn’t have the best interest,” LeRoy Frasier said.

“On the surface and maybe otherwise, the University is a much friendlier place than in the ’50s,” he said.

Like his brother, LeRoy Frasier stayed at UNC for only three years. He left without graduating, but he did not leave Friday without a message for students.

“Your education at any institution is only partly what happens in the classroom,” he said. “What happens outside is often more important than what happens inside.”

Ralph Frasier’s younger daughter, Rochelle Frasier, said she was surprised to learn that her father and uncle and Brandon would be speaking publicly about their experiences.

“It’s an experience they don’t often talk about,” she said. “It was traumatic for them. There was a lot of racism even though the University was desegregated.”

Rochelle Frasier joined Washington, her sister, in encouraging current minority students to be grateful for those who paved that path for them.

“Be thankful you weren’t the first,” Washington said.

Rochelle Frasier said the experiences of her father and uncle have taught her lessons that she hopes others will learn.

“It’s important to stick up for what’s right, to stand up for what you believe in despite what you have to go through,” she said.

Contact the University Editor at udesk@unc.edu.

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