In Memoriam: J. Kenneth Lee ’52 (1923-2018)

Posted on Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Dear Carolina Law community,

J. Kenneth Lee ’52 (1923-2018)

I am writing to share the sad news of the passing of J. Kenneth Lee, 94, of Greensboro. 

Mr. Lee was one of four students at the North Carolina Central University School of Law who, in 1949, joined a lawsuit in the Middle District of North Carolina that led to the desegregation of the University of North Carolina School of Law.  The students were represented by Thurgood Marshall, then Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and later Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.  The admission of African American students to the law school had the effect of desegregating the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Other graduate and professional schools at UNC-CH soon followed suit, and by the mid-1950s African American students were admitted to the College of Arts and Sciences.

Mr. Lee was a prominent civil rights attorney in Greensboro over a career spanning more than five decades of active practice.  Details about Mr. Lee’s important and fascinating career can be found in an obituary in the Greensboro News & Record, and the more detailed sketch in this excerpt from Notable Black American Men, Book II. The latter recounts the story of Mr. Lee’s disparate treatment by a faculty member in the classrooms of the law school.

The Kathrine R. Everett Law Library digital collection “Law School First – The African Americans Who Integrated UNC-Chapel Hill,” is a rich collection of photographs, biographical sketches, legal documents, oral history transcripts, and contemporary news articles related to the efforts of students and civil rights organizations to desegregate North Carolina’s institutions of higher education.


Martin H. Brinkley ’92
Dean and Arch T. Allen Distinguished Professor of Law, UNC School of Law