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The Steele Building was the location where the color line was broken at the University Of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1951. The building is currently utilized for on-campus academic advisors. In the Summer of 1951, Harvey E. Beech, James L. Lassiter, J. Kenneth Lee, Floyd B. McKissick, and James R. Walker became the first African Americans to attend UNC’s Law School and they were housed in the top floor of this building.

Steele Building Facade

Plant, Building, Window, Sky

After the NAACP brought several cases against the University, this building would become the first to house African American students. The verdict in McKissick v. Carmichael led to the university's acceptance of African American students to the law school. The first five African American law students were housed in dorms on North Campus, and despite a housing shortage at that time, these five were the only residents of the top floor of the Steele Building. The floor was not occupied the following summer or academic year.

While enrolled, the five men faced constant harassment as well as systematic exclusion from on-campus events. One of the students, Floyd McKissick, bitterly recalled his first-semester stay in Steele: “I stayed in a cubicle where the other Black students were supposed to stay and did stay sometimes during the day time. Many of them didn’t want to at night. So I was alone there. And they [white students] would come in and they’d put a Black snake in my drawer, a dead Black snake, in my drawer on my shirts.”

Throughout the next two decades, many Black students would pass through the University of North Carolina, all of them facing the same segregated “geography of exclusion,” a phrase used by scholar David Sibley. The legacy of the Steele law students can be seen throughout the modern university housing landscape, especially in the continued grouping of Black students in south campus dorms, which the University has long passed off as de facto self-segregation.

Nixon, Donna L. “The Integration of UNC-Chapel Hill — Law School First.” North Carolina Law Review 97, no. 6 (September 1, 2019). 

“South Campus.” Reclaiming the University of the People, March 27, 2019.