‘First African Americans on the North Carolina Bench’ pop-up at City of Raleigh Museum

RALEIGH — The City of Raleigh (COR) Museum and Campbell Law are partnering for a special installation titled “First African Americans on the North Carolina Bench,” honoring the contributions of trailblazing African American judges in North Carolina. After special public display from Aug. 9-26 at the City of Raleigh Museum at 220 Fayetteville St. the exhibit will tour the state. Museum admission is always free.

While North Carolina today has numerous African American judges (including its first African American Woman Chief Justice Cheri Beasley appointed earlier this year), there were no African Americans on the bench in North Carolina prior to the late 1960s.

“I am embarrassed it took 83 years,” said Chief Justice Henry Frye, when asked how it felt to be the first African American named to the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Campbell Law felt it was important to highlight these trailblazing individuals in our state’s history who achieved great success against difficult odds. Eight judges and justices (men and women) are profiled for their achievements and “being first” milestones:

  • Judge Elreta Alexander, first African American District Court Judge (1968)
  • Judge Sammie Chess, first African American Superior Court Judge (1971)
  • Judge Clifton E. Johnson, first African American Chief District Court Judge (1974)
  • Judge Richard C. Erwin, first African American Judge on the Court of Appeals (1977) & first African American Federal District Court Judge (1980)
  • Justice Henry Frye, first African American Supreme Court Justice (1983) & Chief Justice Henry Frye, first African American Supreme Court Justice (1999)
  • Judge Cy Grant, first African American Chief Resident Superior Court Judge (1988)
  • Judge Allyson Duncan, first African American from North Carolina on a Federal Circuit Court (2003)
  • Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson, first African American to sit on the District Court, Court of Appeals, and Supreme Court (2006)

The exhibit is part of Campbell Law’s 2019 “10/40” celebration – commemorating the 40th anniversary of law school’s first graduating class and the 10th anniversary of the law school’s move from Buies Creek to downtown Raleigh. Prior to 2009, Raleigh had been the only state capital without a law school.

Campbell Law Dean J. Rich Leonard and research librarian Adrienne DeWitt curated the exhibit from newspaper archives and government documents, state library and archives, published biographies, and the individuals’ personal effects.

For more details, call 919-865-5978 or email Campbell Law Communications and Marketing Director Lisa Snedeker at lsnedeker@campbell.edu


Since its founding in 1976, Campbell Law has developed lawyers who possess moral conviction, social compassion, and professional competence, and who view the law as a calling to serve others. Among its accolades, the school has been recognized by the American Bar Association (ABA) as having the nation’s top Professionalism Program and by the American Academy of Trial Lawyers for having the nation’s best Trial Advocacy Program. Campbell Law boasts more than 4,200 alumni, who make their home in nearly all 50 states and beyond. In 2019, Campbell Law is celebrating 40 years of graduating legal leaders and 10 years of being located in a state-of-the-art facility in the heart of North Carolina’s Capital City.


Lisa Snedeker

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