Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Harvey E. Beech, September 25, 1996. Interview J-0075. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Beech's role in the NAACP case against the UNC law school

Beech discusses his involvement in the NAACP case to integrate the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) law school. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the NAACP attempted to integrate higher education institutions. Beech explains that law school served as a necessary site for integration because blacks and whites would practice law in the same courthouse. He also describes the differences between his academic treatment at North Carolina School for Negroes (now known as North Carolina Central University) and UNC.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Harvey E. Beech, September 25, 1996. Interview J-0075. 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

OK. So when he began the court case against the UNC system, how did you first become involved?
Well, I have to correct you. He didn't start that case. The case was started before McKissick came to law school, came to Central. It was started by Epps, e-p-p-s, from High Point. And somebody before that. But what happened was, the case was started a long time ago, but every time there was a three year span, the case became moot to those persons, so McKissick replaced Epps, and Epps had to replace someone else. And when finally, it was finally changed that the caption of the case was with McKissick, but it was the plaintiff changing all the time. And when it came to fruition it became McKissick, but it had been pending for a long time. And the same thing happened to McKissick that happened to Epps. McKissick finished law school before the decision was reached, so it was a moot question to him. And Thurgood Marshall and some others came down and asked if I would go to Chapel Hill. And Kenneth Lee, who was my roommate. And we said yes. McKissick, after McKissick had graduated from Central law school, he came over and took a course in something. But Mack and I were friends at Morehouse.
So how did Thurgood Marshall know to ask you and Mr. Lee?
Well, I had pretty good grades.
I had all A's and B's at Central. But I didn't have all A's and B's at Carolina. I had probably one C at Central. And Kenneth also. Maybe, one or two, I don't know, but my grades were better than B at Central, anything I had, except maybe one or two. I can't think of anything, really. But at Carolina, I had to cut the mustard to get some A's. And I put on a special effort there in constitutional law, one year. Because there was prejudice all over the place, and they had some visiting professors. And one was from southern California, teaching con law. And there were students from New York University, Duke, everywhere. Two hundred and some students. And they had numbers, you know, when you take the exam. I guess they still do that. They gave four A's and I made one of those, and I felt like I had done something special. When I reached that, I said, well I think I got what it takes to compete. Because you can't practice law in a vacuum. You have to practice with everybody. So the persons you go to law school with will not necessarily be your opponents in the court. So you need to get out there and cut the mustard. Everybody does. After I made those achievements I said, well, don't worry about it. So Kenneth and I took the bar. The first time, it was, you know, breaking the ice, you know, one of us was supposed to flunk the bar. The first time, we both passed the first time, no questions.