22 Oct 2019

The Prezell R. Robinson Library Unveils “First African Americans on the North Carolina Bench” Exhibit

The Prezell R. Robinson Library and Campbell University School of Law are partnering for a special installation titled “First African Americans on the North Carolina Bench”, honoring the contributions of trailblazing African American judges in North Carolina today.

While North Carolina today has numerous African American judges (including its first African American Woman Chief Justice Cheri Beasley appointed earlier this year), there were no African Americans on the bench in North Carolina prior to the late 1960s.

Campbell Law felt it was important to highlight these trailblazing individuals in our state’s history who achieved great success against difficult odds. Eight judges and justices (men and women) are profiled for their achievements and “being first” milestones:

  • Judge Elreta Alexander, first African American District Court Judge (1968)
  • Judge Sammie Chess, first African American Superior Court Judge (1971)
  • Judge Clifton E. Johnson, first African American Chief District Court Judge (1974)
  • Judge Richard C. Erwin, first African American Judge on the Court of Appeals (1977) & first African American Federal District Court Judge (1980)
  • Justice Henry Frye, first African American Supreme Court Justice (1983) & Chief Justice Henry Frye, first African American Supreme Court Justice (1999)
  • Judge Cy Grant, first African American Chief Resident Superior Court Judge (1988)
  • Judge Allyson Duncan, first African American from North Carolina on a Federal Circuit Court (2003)
  • Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson, first African American to sit on the District Court, Court of Appeals, and Supreme Court (2006)

When asked how it felt to be the first African American named to the North Carolina Supreme Court, Chief Justice Henry Frye replied, “I am embarrassed it took 83 years.”

The exhibit is part of Campbell Law’s 2019 “10/40” celebration – commemorating the 40th anniversary of law school’s first graduating class and the 10th anniversary of the law school’s move from Buies Creek to downtown Raleigh (previously, Raleigh had been the only state capital without a law school).

Campbell Law Dean J. Rich Leonard and research librarian Adrienne DeWitt curated the exhibit from newspaper archives and government documents, state library and archives, published biographies, and the individuals’ personal effects.

Stop by the library to see this amazing exhibit. It runs now until Mid January 2020.