On February 3, 1983, Henry Frye was sworn in as North Carolina’s first African-American Supreme Court Justice. Governor Jim Hunt appointed Frye as an associate justice. Then, in 1999, in another first, Hunt named Frye to the unexpired term of retiring Chief Justice Burley Mitchell. After Frye lost his bid for a full term as chief justice in 2000, he retired, having served on the state’s top tribunal for more than 17 years.
Frye has led a remarkable life. Born the son of a Richmond County farmer in August 1932, he graduated with top honors from North Carolina A&T State University and became a U.S. Air Force captain. Despite his education and service, he was told he had failed the required literacy test when he returned home and attempted to register to vote in 1956. The experience inspired him to become a lawyer.
In 1968, Frye became the first African American elected to the North Carolina General Assembly in the twentieth century. The first bill he introduced was a constitutional amendment abolishing the literacy test. Frye eventually served six terms in the state House and one term in the state senate before he began his judicial career.