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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Henry Ell Frye, February 18 and 26, 1992. Interview C-0091. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Public service as lawyer and helping the underrepresented

Frye discusses his law practice in Greensboro during the 1960s. When asked about cases that stood out in his memory, Frye recalls several instances in which he helped people who were otherwise underrepresented, such as the food workers at UNC. He explains that he enjoyed taking on these kinds of cases because he understands the practice of law as a public service.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Henry Ell Frye, February 18 and 26, 1992. Interview C-0091. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

AMY E. BOENING:
After you got out of law school, you started practicing in Greensboro, is that right?
HENRY ELL FRYE:
Yes.
AMY E. BOENING:
I have a picture of you when you started your law practice. It's from an article announcing the opening of your law office.
HENRY ELL FRYE:
Oh, yes. Now where did you find that? This is a picture of me opening my law office in Greensboro for the general practice of law. Sworn in before Judge L. Richardson Preyer. At that time he was a Superior Court Judge. Later he became a federal judge and when I was appointed assistant United States Attorney, he was the person who administered the oath of office to me. And I felt real great about that, you know he was the same person who administered the oath to me as a lawyer to practice law, and then the same one who administered the oath for that purpose.
AMY E. BOENING:
During your law practice, do any cases stand out in your memory?
HENRY ELL FRYE:
Well, one of the more trying ones, was the time that I represented a group of workers at UNC-G. What had happened was that the cafeteria workers went on strike at the university and they wanted higher pay and better working conditions and things of that nature. But they were not employed by the university. It was a private concern that handled it. And the student government at UNC-G got interested in it and wanted to help the cafeteria workers. And they tried to get, I don't know how many lawyers they tried to get, and they couldn't get a lawyer to handle it, of course they didn't have very much money for one thing. And it was a very sensitive type of thing, too, because you would be representing people who were trying to form a union and that type of thing. But, any rate, to make a long story short, I recall that the president of the student government of UNC-G, and somebody else came to my office and practically begged me to take the case. They said, "All we have is ?500." They said, "But we'll pay that and we wish you would do it, and they said something like, "You're our last hope." I am sort of sensitive to things like that, at least I used to be, I'm trying to get away from it. So any rate, I said I'd see what I can do. But the most interesting thing about it was, they had a negotiating committee that would meet with the lawyer and someone from the company that handled the food service. And so every time the lawyer for the company would make a suggestion he could look at the faces of the members of the negotiating committee and tell whether they agreed or disagreed with it. And so I found that my being there wasn't much help one way or the other because it was just a poor negotiating situation and so I finally told them, it doesn't make sense, let's find something else, and I won't go into all the details, but we settled it because the persons from the university got involved. When we first started, the people at the university said they had nothing to do with it. It was a private matter between the cafeteria workers and the company, but we finally convinced them that the university was involved. And once the university got involved we worked it out. They got a fairly decent settlement and things were worked out. But, I see some of those people today and they thank me for doing that. So that was a very helpful one. Without going into a lot of details, another thing that I got a lot of satisfaction out of, down at Salisbury, North Carolina, a redevelopment project was being conducted down there. That involved condemning a lot of homes and then removing them and making, eventually, an improved area from the standpoint of buildings and things of that nature. And this particular woman owned her own home and she decided she wasn't going to move. And they sent the people out there from the Highway Department or something and she got a shotgun and ordered them off the property. Any rate, to make a long story short again, her minister called me and asked me if I would represent her. She was not satisfied with the representation she was getting down there. And I went down and decided to represent her and we eventually got something worked out on it. As a result of that, I ended up representing a lot of people whose land, whose houses, were being taken, frankly without getting fair compensation for their property, that's really what it amounted to. And we were able to get a better deal for all of them, so I was well satisfied with that. I could go on and on. Let me give you one more, then I'll quit. There was a federal program which allowed non-profit organizations to form a corporation and build housing for low and moderate income people. And so I worked, first of all, with one of the churches there in Greensboro who was trying to get some land for that purpose. And the people who were handling it for the government who owned the land at that particular point really gave them bad advice. After I checked out the law, we found a way to get the property and then eventually form the corporation and get the money and then build that housing and then later on working with the Low Income Housing Development Corporation out of Durham. I worked with a lot of other organizations. Mostly churches, incidentally, who would form these corporations and build houses and the idea was not just to build a house and get somebody in it, but to teach the people how to take care of the houses and things of that nature. And we did that in several cities in North Carolina: Greensboro, one here in Raleigh, incidentally, and in Charlotte, and Salisbury, one or two other places like that. I found that very, very enjoyable, very rewarding.
AMY E. BOENING:
From that story and from some other things you have mentioned, do you see as part of a lawyer's role going beyond just the legal aspects of his client's case?
HENRY ELL FRYE:
Well, yes. I think, and this is a little oldfashioned, I suppose, but I think of a lawyer as being a person who is performing a service and that your primary interest ought to be in performing a service for someone, realizing that you need to paid for your work, but that you're working not just for the pay, you're working because you want to perform a service.