Last student who helped integrate the University of North Carolina’s undergraduate body has died

May 17, 2024, 9:09 AM

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Ralph Kennedy Frasier, the final surviving member of a trio of African American youths who were the first to desegregate the undergraduate student body at North Carolina’s flagship public university in the 1950s, has died.

Frasier, who had been in declining health over the past several months, died May 8 at age 85 at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, according to son Ralph Frasier Jr. A memorial service was scheduled for Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, where Frasier spent much of his working career.

Frasier, his older brother LeRoy, and John Lewis Brandon — all Durham high school classmates — fought successfully against Jim Crow laws when they were able to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the fall of 1955. LeRoy Frasier died in late 2017, with Brandon following weeks later.

Initially, the Hillside High School students’ enrollment applications were denied, even though the UNC law school had been integrated a few years earlier. And the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision that outlawed segregation happened in 1954.

The trustee board of UNC — the nation’s oldest public university — then passed a resolution barring the admission of Blacks as undergraduates. The students sued and a federal court ordered they be admitted. The ruling ultimately was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The trio became plaintiffs, in part, because their families were insulated from financial retribution — the brothers’ parents worked for Black-owned North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Co. in Durham, for example. The brothers were 14 months apart in age, but Ralph started his education early.

After the legal victory, it still was not easy being on campus. In an interview at the time of his brother’s death, Frasier recalled that the school’s golf course and the university-owned Carolina Inn were off-limits. At football games, they were seated in a section with custodial workers, who were Black. And the three lived on their own floor of a section of a dormitory.

“Those days were probably the most stressful of my life,” Frasier told The Associated Press in 2010 when the three visited Chapel Hill to be honored. “I can’t say that I have many happy memories.”

The brothers studied three years at Chapel Hill before Ralph left for the Army and LeRoy for the Peace Corps. Attending UNC “was extremely tough on them. They were tired,” Ralph Frasier Jr. said this week in an interview.

The brothers later graduated from North Carolina Central University in Durham, an historically Black college. LeRoy Frasier worked as an English teacher for many years in New York. Brandon got his degrees elsewhere and worked in the chemical industry.

Frasier also obtained a law degree at N.C. Central, after which began a long career in legal services and banking, first with Wachovia and later Huntington Bancshares in Columbus.

Ralph Frasier was proud of promoting racial change in the Columbus business community and by serving on a committee that helped put two Black jurists on the federal bench, his son said.

Relationships with UNC-Chapel Hill improved, leading to the 2010 campus celebration of their pioneering efforts, and scholarships were named in their honor.

Still, Ralph Frasier Jr. said it was disappointing to see the current UNC-Chapel Hill trustee board vote this week to recommend diverting money from diversity programs for next year.

“It’s almost a smack in the face and a step backwards in time,” Ralph Frasier Jr. said. The action comes as the UNC system’s Board of Governors will soon decide whether to rework its diversity policy for the 17 campuses statewide.

Frasier’s survivors include his wife of 42 years, Jeannine Marie Quick-Frasier; six children, 14 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

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Last student who helped integrate the University of North Carolina’s undergraduate body has died