Although UNC has had organized sports teams since the 1860s, the University's first Black athlete did not play until a century later. Black athletes at this time were trailblazers in their respective sports and in the greater UNC community.
These five Tar Heels conquered racial barriers to become significant athletic figures at the University.
Okoroma, a Nigerian student and the first Black athlete to play at UNC, played soccer in the fall of 1963. Okoroma graduated with a degree in chemistry in 1965 and went on to medical school to become a physician.
In 2021, Okoroma was a recipient of the inaugural ACC UNITE Award, which honors individuals affiliated with the league who have made an impact in racial or social justice. He was honored alongside Ophelia Speight, who joined the women's fencing team in 1974 and was the first Black female athlete to play at UNC.
Cooper walked onto the first-year basketball team in 1964, making him UNC's first Black basketball player — two years before Charles "Charlie" Scott stepped on campus.
Cooper faced plenty of discrimination as a member of the team, including harassment and being refused meals. Cooper was not allowed to travel with the team to South Carolina for a game because his coaches were afraid for his safety.
Despite the barriers he faced, Cooper continued to improve as a point guard and averaged about four points per game in his first year. Before he could try out for the varsity team as a sophomore, Cooper quit basketball to focus on his academics. He later went on to serve in the army and got a job at IBM.