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LeRoy Frasier, one of the UNC's first African American undergraduates, dies

old well file

Photo by Alex Kormann

LeRoy Frasier, a Durham native who was one of the first black undergraduate students to attend UNC, died on Dec. 29, in New York City due to heart failure. He was 80 years old.

Joseph Jordan, director of UNC’s Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History, said LeRoy Frasier’s contributions to UNC affect every student and faculty member.

“LeRoy Frasier represented a long, unbroken line of purposeful activists who never wavered when called to challenge injustice in all of its forms, including segregation in higher education,” Jordan said. “Every student who passes through the halls of UNC-Chapel Hill, and each and every faculty member and staff person, should understand the meaning of the sacrifices made by LeRoy Frasier, his brother Ralph and John Brandon. Their selfless actions provided the foundation for all that is good about this University today, and all that challenges us to be even better than we think we are.”

LeRoy Frasier, his brother Ralph and friend John Lewis Brandon were students at Durham’s all-black Hillside High School. They challenged UNC’s separate but equal admissions policy in 1955, when they applied to UNC but were rejected. At the time, the UNC Board of Trustees stated it was due to the students’ ability to attend a Black college in the state. 

The three filed a suit against the BOT, on the grounds that separate but equal colleges were unconstitutional under the 1954 United States Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education. 

They won the case and became the first black undergraduates to be admitted in University history. 

According to the Associated Press, Ralph Frasier, a retired attorney, recalled that the University golf course and the Carolina Inn were both off-limits for them. They couldn’t sit with the other students at football games, and instead had to sit with the primarily black custodial staff. Their dormitory rooms were also on a separate floor. 

"There were pockets of hostility among students primarily," said Ralph Frasier to AP. "But some of the administrators were less than welcoming. Some faculty were less than welcoming."

The Frasier brothers did join the UNC swim team, though they had to receive special permission to use the pool. 

In an interview with the Durham Morning Herald on Feb. 9, 1956, late UNC swim coach Ralph Casey spoke about the Frasier brothers.

“They were just like anybody else,” Casey said. “Maybe a little quieter than normal. They worked hard. They were a curiosity at first but that wore off.”

The Frasier brothers and Brandon all left UNC after their third year. According to the AP, Frasier said the harsh treatment at UNC was one of the reasons they left.

Afterward, LeRoy Frasier joined the Peace Corps, while his brother joined the Army. They both later graduated from North Carolina Central University, with LeRoy later earning a master’s degree from New York University. He taught English in Africa and in the U.S..

“We were best friends for life,” Ralph Frasier told AP. The brothers spoke on the phone almost every day, and had last spoken on Christmas, four days before LeRoy’s death.

Chancellor Carol Folt called LeRoy Frasier a pioneer in an article published by UNC following his death.

“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,” Folt said.  “LeRoy’s contributions to Carolina will live on through our students who receive scholarships bearing his name.”

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