Gwendolyn Harrison Smith, the first Black woman to attend classes at UNC-Chapel Hill, will be honored posthumously with an office building to be built in her name.
The developers of the property, Grubb Properties, wanted to ensure that her memory and legacy lived on and have named the four-story office building, to be completed in early 2021, The Gwendolyn. The redevelopment of the Glen Lennox community is located on 15/501, near the intersection of NC 54 and is just a mile from campus. “Grubb Properties is committed to remembering individuals who contributed to the greater good in our society,” said CEO Clay Grubb. “I admire Gwendolyn Harrison (Smith’s) accomplishments and determination never to give up. As we move forward with the Glen Lennox redevelopment, we look forward to announcing additional names that integrate history with the community’s modern design.”
Her eldest daughter, Carla Smith Brown, told JDNews.com, “She would be shocked. She would also be very honored. This is a surprise to me, because we knew nothing about it.”
Smith was a true pioneer, fighting institutional racism in order to continue her education.
When she arrived at UNC in the summer of 1951, she had already earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Spelman College and a master’s degree in Spanish from the University of California. Furthermore, she was a professor at Johnson C. Smith in Charlotte when she applied to UNC.
However, when university officials – who did not know she was Black when she applied – told her she would not be allowed to live in the dorm or register for classes. She contacted then Governor W. Kerr Scott, who was also chairman of the UNC Board of Trustees and, with advice from the NAACP, hired an attorney. After filing a federal lawsuit against UNC. The University reacted by holding an emergency BOT meeting and a minority of members considering discontinuing its doctoral program in Spanish rather than allow her to attend classes. Board member Victor Bryant spoke on her behalf, saying, “I don’t think we should say we’re wiling to be ignorant rather than educate Negro children. Smith went on to complete three classes over three summer sessions, though the University cannot confirm whether she earned a doctorate degree at UNC.