EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (May 25, 2023) – Henry E. Frye ’53, one of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University’s most distinguished alumni, is being honored by Triad Business Journal (TBJ) with its inaugural Leaders in Diversity Legacy Award.
Frye will receive the award June 21 at his alma mater during the publication’s third annual Leaders in Diversity event a little more than a year after his wife, Shirley T. Frye ‘53, received the 2022 TBJ Outstanding Women in Business Special Achievement Award.
Henry Frye joined the Air Force upon graduating with highest honors from N.C. A&T. When he returned home, he married Shirley Taylor on Aug. 25, 1956 – the same day he was denied the right to vote. This act of discrimination fueled his desire to build an equitable America and in 1959 he became the first African American student to complete all three years of study and graduate from the University of North Carolina School of Law.
His continued hard work and dedication led to a series of additional firsts: the first African American assistant U.S. district attorney (1963); the first Black man in the 20th century to be elected to the N.C. General Assembly (1968); the first African American appointed to the N.C. Supreme Court (1983); and the first African American chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court (1999).
While making a career out of making North Carolina history, Henry Frye also remained dedicated to serving Greensboro through endeavors such as establishing Greensboro National Bank to combat lending discrimination against Black business owners in the city. He is also moved by poetry, having memorized Edgar Albert Guest’s “It Couldn’t Be Done” and writing a poem for his wife on the occasion of their 65th wedding anniversary that was published in The (Greensboro, North Carolina) News & Record.
Likewise, Shirley Frye has earned many accolades in her lifetime, including The News & Record Woman of the Year Award for 2017 and the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, one of North Carolina’s highest civilian honors.
After she earned her B.S. in education and English with high honors from A&T, she taught at Washington Elementary School then earned a master’s degree in special education and psychology to become a special education teacher serving the Greensboro community. Later, she returned to A&T as assistant vice chancellor for development and university relations and as special assistant to the chancellor before her career led her to serve as special assistant to the president and director of planned giving at neighboring Bennett College. She also worked for the state Department of Public Instruction and retired as vice president of community relations at WFMY News 2, where she won an Emmy.
Throughout her career, Shirley Frye has also been a devoted community volunteer. She led the integration of Greensboro’s two segregated YWCAs in the 1970s, serving as the new organization’s first president and with her work used as a model for YWCAs across the country. The city’s newest YWCA building is named in her honor. Additionally, she chaired the steering committee for Action Greensboro, served on the Greensboro City Schools Board of Education and in leadership positions at United Way of Greater Greensboro, N.C. A&T Real Estate Foundation Board, High Point University Board of Trustees and others.
In April 2022, the trailblazing couple donated their personal archives, professional documents and artifacts to the F.D. Bluford Library Archives at A&T. The Justice Henry E. and Shirley T. Frye Archival Collection represents more than five decades of materials that document the Fryes’ legacy in civil rights, social justice and civic engagement. It is being preserved, protected and made accessible to the university, the public and the world for study, research and discussion.
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