Title: Oral History Interview with Henry Ell Frye, February 18 and 26, 1992. Interview C-0091.
Interviewer: Boening, Amy E.
Interviewee: Frye, Henry Ell
Subjects: African American judges--North Carolina North Carolina--Race relations North Carolina--Politics and government
Abstract: Henry E. Frye grew up in Ellerbe, North Carolina, during the 1930s and 1940s. His parents owned fifty acres of land there, and he describes growing up farming tobacco and cotton for his own family and for other farmers in a system called "half farming." Frye also discusses attending segregated schools during those years. He recalls that despite segregation, black and white children in the farming community played and worked together outside of school. In the late 1940s, Frye left Ellerbe to attend North Carolina A&T in Greensboro. While there, he became actively involved in various activities, including Air Force ROTC and student government. Following his graduation, Frye served briefly in the military and was stationed in Japan. When he returned, he enrolled in the School of Law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At the time, he was the only African American student. Frye graduated from law school and passed the bar exam in 1959 and opened his own law practice in Greensboro, where he and his wife had settled. In this portion of the interview, Frye describes some of his most memorable cases, most of which involved representing the under-represented. During the 1960s, Frye continued to practice law and became increasingly involved in community activities and politics. In 1969, he became the first African American elected to the North Carolina General Assembly. Serving in the House from 1969 to 1980 and in the Senate from 1981 to 1982, Frye worked to address racial issues in the state legislature. Notably, he introduced legislation to abolish literacy tests for voter registration. During the 1970s, Frye was a founding member of the Greensboro National Bank, which was established to offer African Americans a more discernible role in business. He served as the bank's president for its first ten years in existence. In 1983, Frye was appointed to the North Carolina Supreme Court. The next year, he was elected by North Carolina constituents to continue his service on that court. He spends the final parts of this interview discussing his experiences as a supreme court justice and his thoughts about the role of the legislature and the judiciary in state politics.