Henry E. Frye

25th NC Supreme Court Chief Justice

Date Born: August 1, 1932

Date Died: Living

Place Born: Ellerbe, NC

Place Buried: Living


Chief Justice 1999-2001
Associate Justice 1983-1999

Henry E Frye was born on August 1, 1932 in Ellerbe, NC, the son of Walter A. Frye and Pearl (Motley) Frye. His initial education was at the Mineral Springs School. He graduated with Highest Honors from the North Carolina Agricultural & Technical University in 1953, where he was also in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and received a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant.

From 1953 to 1955, Henry E. Frye served as a Captain in the U.S. Air Force.

From 1955 to 1959, Henry E. Frye attended the University of North Carolina Law School; he graduated with a J.D degree, with Honors, in 1959.

On August 25, 1956, Henry E. Frye married Shirley Taylor; they had two children.

From 1959 to 1963, Henry E. Frye was an attorney in his own private law practice.

From 1963 to 1965, Henry E. Frye was Assistant U.S. Attorney in the North Carolina Middle District.

From 1965 to 1967, Henry E. Frye was an Adjunct Professor at the North Carolina Central Law School.

From 1967 to 1983, Henry E. Frye was again an attorney in his own private law practice.

In 1968, Henry E. Frye was first elected as one of six delegates to represent the 26th NC House District (Guilford County) in the NC House of Representatives of the:
- 128th General Assembly that met in 1969
- 129th General Assembly that met in 1971

In 1971, the legislature re-apportioned the NC House into 45 new districts (instead of 49) based upon the 1970 U.S. Census, to be effective in the next General Election. In 1972, Henry E. Frye was elected as one of seven delegates to represent the 23rd NC House District (Guilford County) in the NC House of Representatives of the:
- 130th General Assembly that met from 1973 to 1974
- 131st General Assembly that met from 1975 to 1976
- 132nd General Assembly that met from 1977 to 1978
- 133rd General Assembly that met from 1979 to 1980

In 1980, Henry E. Frye was elected as one of three delegates to represent the 19th NC Senate District (Guilford County) in the NC Senate of the:
- 134th General Assembly that met from 1981 to 1982

In February of 1983, Governor James Baxter Hunt, Jr. appointed Henry E. Frye as an Associate Justice on the NC Supreme Court, replacing John Phillips Carlton, who had retired. He was elected in his own right in 1984, then re-elected in 1992.

On September, 1, 1999, Governor James Grubbs Martin appointed Henry E. Frye as the next Chief Justice of the NC Supreme Court, replacing Chief Justice Burley Bayard Mitchell, Jr., who retired. He remained as Chief Justice until he was defeated by Isaac Beverly Lake, Jr. in the 2000 General Election. He left the bench on January 1, 2001.

As of 2015, Henry E. Frye is employed with Brooks & Pierce Law Firm in Greensboro, NC. He is also Visiting Professor of Political Science and Justice at North Carolina A&T State University. He is a recognized business leader and community advocate. He serves leadership roles in many non-profit, academic, professional and civic organizations, and is continually recognized for his dedication and contributions to state and local communities.

Early Years/Education:

Son of Walter A. Frye and Pearl Motley. Attended Mineral Springs School; BS with Highest Honors from North Carolina A&T University 1953; JD with Honors from University of North Carolina School of Law 1959.

Professional Background:

Chief Justice North Carolina Supreme Court - appointed on September 1, 1999 by Governor James B. Hunt, Jr. to succeed Chief Justice Burley B. Mitchell.

Associate Justice North Carolina Supreme Court - appointed in February 1983 to succeed Associate Justice John P. Carlton by Governor James B. Hunt, Jr., elected in 1984 and re-elected.

Practicing attorney 1959-1963; 1967-1983.

Professor, NC Central University Law School 1965-1967.

Assistant US Attorney, Middle District of North Carolina 1963-1965.


Greensboro Bar Association; NC Bar Association; American Bar Association; National Bar Association; Kappa Alpha Psi; Conference of Chief Justices.

Boards and Commissions:

Board of Directors, NC Mutual Life Insurance Company 1973-1983; Board of Directors, Greensboro National Bank 1971-1983 (President 1971-1981); Chair, Board of Directors, American Judicature Society 1995-1997; Board of Directors, Leadership North Carolina; Director, Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro.

Honors and Awards:

1986 Distinguished Alumnus Award, UNC-Chapel Hill; 1988 Lawyer of the Year, NC Association of Black Lawyers; 1989 Appellate Judges Award, NC Academy of Trial Lawyers; 1991 Brotherhood Award, National Conference of Christians & Jews; 1991 Greensboro Business Leaders Hall of Fame, Jr. Achievement of Central NC.

Military Service:

Captain, US Air Force 1953-1955.

Personal Information:

Married to Shirley Taylor on August 25, 1956. Two children.

Henry E. Frye is an American judge and politician who concluded his public-service career as the first African-American Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court.

He was born August 1, 1932 in Richmond County, North Carolina. After graduating with honors from North Carolina A&T State University, Frye reached the rank of Captain in the United States Air Force, serving in Korea and Japan. Upon returning to North Carolina, Frye was inspired to become a lawyer when he was denied the ability to register to vote by so-called "literacy" tests.

When Frye was elected to the North Carolina General Assembly as a state representative in 1968, he was the only black North Carolina legislator, and the first elected in the 20th century. Frye helped eliminate the vestiges of Jim Crow from North Carolina law. He was re-elected several times to the State House of Representatives, serving until 1980, and served one term in the State Senate from 1981 to 1982. During this time, he was also an instructor at North Carolina Central University's law school.

In 1983, Governor Jim Hunt appointed Frye to the North Carolina Supreme Court as an Associate Justice, the first African-American to hold that position in North Carolina history. Elected in 1984 to the court and re-elected in 1992, Jim Hunt appointed Frye to the state's highest judicial post, Chief Justice, in 1999 to replace the retiring Burley Mitchell. He was defeated for election to a full term in 2000 by Associate Justice I. Beverly Lake. Frye currently practices law with Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard in Greensboro, North Carolina.

In 2007, Frye received the North Carolina Award for public service.

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