Floyd McKissick

This Day in History: March 9th

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Attorney and civil rights activist, Floyd B. McKissick, was born in Asheville, N.C., on March 9, 1922. McKissick was the first African-American student to be admitted to the University of North Carolina Law School.

Full of ambition from a young age, he carted ice on a homemade wagon, delivered newspapers and shined shoes to help support his family. McKissick was drafted into the Army in World War II and served as a sergeant in Europe. McKissick attained the rank of sergeant while in the service.

Following his return, McKissick attended Morehouse College in Atlanta and graduated in 1948. He pursued his career in law by applying to the all-white University of North Carolina School of Law but was denied admission based on his race. He then enrolled at North Carolina College School of Law and filed a lawsuit against UNC with the help of the NAACP.

The defense team for McKissick and three other students was led by Thurgood Marshall, With Marshall leading the defense, the students were granted admission to UNC Law School. Once he finished with schooling, McKissick established his own law firm in Durham, North Carolina in 1955. He was still actively engaged in civil rights campaigns, protests, and boycotts. His law firm in Durham primarily focused on civil rights issues and he handled clients, including the first black undergraduate student to attend UNC-Chapel Hill in 1955, sit-in protesters in 1957 and families who helped integrate the Durham City school system in 1959.

Throughout his life, McKissick continued his work with prominent organizations like the NAACP and was later elected as national chairman of Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in 1963 and took over as the head of CORE by 1966. There was a major change as a result of his leadership and a new focus on becoming assertive advocates for black power ideology.

His activism and work earned him a seat as a state district court judge in 1990 to the Ninth Judicial District in North Carolina. He also became pastor of the First Baptist Church in Soul City, North Carolina before he died of lung cancer on April 28, 1991. Floyd McKissick earned himself a reputation as a leader in the community and someone who would fight hard for the justice and rights of his clients.

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