Frye Creates a Living Legacy of Justice
Posted February 16, 2000 6:00 a.m. EST
RALEIGH — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. inspired many people to break down racial barriers, including a man who is living King's legacy as Chief Justice of theNorth Carolina Supreme Court.
Chief Justice Henry Fryeis familiar with dreams, especially those that come true.
Once, he dreamt of meeting King. In 1957, an Air Force assignment brought him to Montgomery, Ala. After the Montgomery bus boycott, Frye visited King's church.
"Like most pastors with Baptist churches, he stood at the door and greeted people as they came out. And I came out and chatted with him at some length about just various things," Frye says.
Back home in North Carolina, Frye felt the sting of racism when he first registered to vote in Richmond County. The registrar put Frye to the test, asking, "Who signed the Declaration of Independence? Name the 16th President."
"He said, 'It's in the book, so you have to be able to answer these questions, and he started back again and I said, 'Well, I can't answer them.' And he said, 'Well, I can't pass you to register," Frye remembers.
The so-called literacy test was commonly used to deny blacks the right to vote.
Frye worked to change the practice.
"My first bill when I became a member of the Legislature was for a constitutional amendment to abolish the literacy test as a requirement for voting," he says.
Frye was the first black elected to theGeneral Assemblysince Reconstruction.
"Blacks from all over the state would come to see me about their problems, and I would ask, I said, 'Now, have you talked with your legislator?'"
Frye introduced many black citizens to the halls and offices of the Legislature. Today, he is doing the same thing in the courts of justice. Each step he has taken has been a lesson in what one individual can accomplish.
"Everybody can't be a Martin Luther King. Everybody can't be a great speaker. Everybody can't lead a great movement. But everybody can do something," he says.
And his life is a testament to that.