The first black students admitted to UNC, from
left, Floyd B. McKissick ' 51, Kenneth Lee ' 52,
Harvey Beech ' 52 and James Lassiter ' 55.
Before a federal court
wore down the trustees,
UNC could simply
ignore the admissions
applications of African-American students.
was 50 years
ago this June.
by David E. Brown ) 75
Before Floyd McKissick could settle in at UNC's law school, he had to establish his right to eat a meal in Lenoir dining hall. "Mter two or three kids knocked the trays out of my hand," he said, "I went through the line one day and
made the big announcement that 'I intend to eat today, and r don't
intend to let anybody knock any tray out of my hand anymore. 1
can't afford it, in the first place.' And I walked through that line and
didn't nobody say nothing."
He had to be careful when he opened the door to
his Steele Hall room - a bucket of water might have
been propped up there waiting for him. Dead snakes
were left in the drawer anl0ng his shirts.
One day he walked to the campus swil1lIl"ling pool,
jumped in with his clothes on, climbed out and
declared, "It's integrated now."
"I got soaking wet, but it was so hot that day that I
Chapel Hill was hot in more ways than one in the
summer of 1951 . Four black men who had challenged
the law were there to study it. McKissick and Harvey
Beech, Kenneth Lee and James Lassiter were the first
African-An1ericans admitted to UNC classes.
McKissick's recollections, drawn from an oral history
in the archives ofUNC's Southern Historical Collec-
tion, show that he had come out of the Army in 1945 determined
not only to pursue the law but to help put an end to the racial seg-
regation that had kept the law off a black person's side.
Mter World War II, he said, "There was a feeling in the air that
people were going to be fair and treat you right.You were a returning
veteran, and some schools were letting blacks in mat never had before.
... So there was a feeling in North Carolina [mat] North Carolina
would do some of these mings without being forced to do it."
He was wrong about that. The University of Norm Carolina
would stand firmly against admitting black students until it was forced
out from behind the long-standing protection of separate-but-equal
when a federal court affirmed what McKissick already knew: There
was nothing equal about me woefully inadequate law school at N.C.
College, which was renamed N.c. Central University in 1969.
The first time he'd applied to Carolina, in 1945, he had received
no response. By 1950 he was on his way to a law degree from the
Durham school, but he also was part of a lawsuit that was leaning