Aggie Activism

North Carolina A&T's long history of action in civic affairs and elections goes back well over 100 years and includes such milestones as being among the first higher education institutions in America to celebrate Negro History Week in 1926 to its students successfully rallying in 2018-19 to eliminate the gerrymandered districts that bifurcated the A&T campus. Read stories here of some of the individuals and organizations associated with the university and the significant roles they played in advancing equality and social justice in North Carolina and across the country. 


Justice Frye at his swearing-in ceremony as he joined the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Justice Henry E. Frye (cont.)

Frye subsequently joined the U.S. Air Force, rising to the rank of captain and serving his country in Korea and Japan.

Despite his academic achievements and bravery in military service, Frye was denied the right to vote when he returned to North Carolina through a so-called "literacy test," one of many outrageous ways white authorities prevented African Americans from participating in government. Unbowed, he decided to become a lawyer and work to undo the systemic racism still rampant across North Carolina.

In 1959, he graduated from the University of North Carolina Law School, the first African American student to do so. A standout attorney from his first day of practice, Frye was named an assistant U.S. District Attorney in 1963, once again, the first African American to hold that position. Five years later, he charted yet another first, becoming the first African American in the 20th Center to be elected to the N.C. General Assembly, in which he served six terms. He followed that with a single term in the state Senate. But Henry Frye was still far from done.

In 1983, Gov. James B. Hunt appointed him to the North Carolina Supreme Court, making Frye the high court's first ever African American justice. He served with distinction for 16 years, elected to his first full term in 1984, and then re-elected in 1992, finally earning the distinction of being named chief justice by Gov. Hunt in 1999. He retired from the court in 2001.

Still active as an alumni and a fixture at major university events with his equally prominent wife, Shirley Frye, Justice Frye serves as a living example of an Aggie who endured some of the worst injustice of the segregated south and then worked to undo it as a public servant, blazing a trail for other African American attorneys, elected officials and judges. 


U.S. Rep. Alma Adams

Alma Adams has served for more than 36 years as an elected official at the federal, state and local levels, including the past six years in the U.S. House of Representatives.

She is a champion of historically black colleges and universities, the founder of the HBCU Bi-Partisan Congressional Caucus, which has grown to nearly 100 members under her leadership and is an official House caucus.


The Rev. Jesse Jackson

Perhaps North Carolina A&T's most well-known alumnus, the Rev. Jesse Jackson got his start in college, as an activist and leader, in Aggieland.

Borth in Greenville, South Carolina, in 1941, Jackson was a standout student and athlete in high school, winning a football scholarship to the University of Illinois. He stayed less than one year at the university, frustrated by racism that limited his opportunities as a student and football player, and transferred to North Carolina A&T.

At A&T, he not only played quarterback -- a position denied him at Illinois -- but was elected student body president and became active in the civil rights movement, participating in sit-ins and earning a B.S. in sociology. He returned to Illinois, enrolling at the Chicago Theological Seminary and working for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Operation Breadbasket, becoming a protege of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Rev. Martin Luther King and Jesse JacksonJackson was traveling with King when the civil rights icon was assassinated in Memphis in 1968. Jackson emerged in the aftermath of King's murder as a national figure, starting his own organization, Operation PUSH, in 1971. Through the 1970s and '80s, he became one of the nation's most well-known civil rights leaders.

In 1983, he launched a campaign for the U.S. presidency. Despite being initially dismissed by political experts, he finished third nationally, winning 3.2 million votes nationwide and primaries/caucuses in three states plus the District of Columbia. In 1988, he ran once again. More experienced and better organized, he won 6.9 million votes and primaries or causes in 10 states and the District of Columbia, finishing second only to Massachusetts Gov. Mike Dukakis, who won the Democratic nomination. He continued his political involvement in 1991, when he was elected shadow senator for the District of Columbia, a post he held until 1997. He also served in a major support role for his son, Jesse Jackson Jr. -- also a North Carolina A&T graduate -- who was elected to Congress in 1995 and served until 2012.

Jackson was the first major African American candidate for the presidency, and his success arguably opened the door for President Barack Obama's historic election in 2008. He continues to speak and make public appearances around the country, despite struggling with Parkinson's disease.  

Rep. Adams presiding over the U.S. House.

Born in 1946 in High Point, N.C., Adams earned her B.S. degree in 1969 and her M.S. degree in 1972, both from North Carolina A&T and both in Art Education. She continued her education at Ohio State University, where she earned a Ph.D. Art Education/Multicultural Education in 1981. While working as a faculty member at Bennett College, she won her first political post in 1984, a seat on the Greensboro City School Board. Three years later, she was elected to the Greensboro City Council, where she served until being appointed to the North Carolina House of Representatives in 1994. She won a full term later that year, and went on to serve for 20 years as a state legislator.

She won a special election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2014 to replace Mel Watts, who had been appointed director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. She won a full term the following year, and despite challenges brought about by illegal gerrymandering of North Carolina congressional districts, won re-election in 2016 and 2018.

Adams is only the second woman of color to represent North Carolina in Congress. Upon her election in 2014, she became the 100th female member of the congressional class, setting a new record for total number of women in the House of Representatives. In addition to founding the HBCU Caucus, she is co-founder of the Black Maternal Health Caucus, which works to resolve health dispariaties affecting black mothers and their babies.