Report on Relationships Between the NCBA and Systemic Racism
A report has been completed by the North Carolina Bar Association (NCBA) identifying relationships between the NCBA and systemic racism in North Carolina. The report can be accessed through
The report is the result of research that began in relation to a North Carolina Bar Foundation Justice Fund that honors Governor Charles B. Aycock. The research followed the issuance of a report in July 2020 by The Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, regarding Aycock, Julian Carr, Josephus Daniels and Thomas Ruffin.
Research into Aycock’s involvement in the founding of the NCBA led to the need to more fully understand the involvement of participants in the white supremacy political campaign of 1898 with the organization of the NCBA in 1899, and to understand the struggle required for the NCBA to admit its first non-white members in 1967.
The NCBA was organized on February 10, 1899, at a meeting in the Supreme Court of North Carolina. The North Carolina Democratic Party had just returned to power in the 1898 election through a statewide political campaign based upon white supremacy. At the campaign’s conclusion the multi-racial government of Wilmington was violently overthrown in a coup that resulted in the deaths of up to 60 Black citizens, the expulsion of over 20 individuals from Wilmington and a mass exodus of over 2,100 others from the city. The North Carolina legislature elected in 1898 proceeded to enact Jim Crow laws that disenfranchised Black citizens and institutionalized segregationist policies that have harmed generations of Black citizens in North Carolina.
Prominent leaders of the 1898 white supremacy campaign, the Wilmington Coup and the 1899 legislature were members of and leaders in the founding of the NCBA in 1899. White supremacist policies and ideas were incorporated into the founding constitution of the NCBA by limiting membership to “any white person” and included in addresses during the NCBA’s early annual meetings. The language limiting membership in the NCBA to “any white person” was not removed from the NCBA constitution until 1965.
While language limiting membership to “any white person” from the NCBA constitution was removed, new barriers to membership were instituted, including the recommendation of three members (versus the two or sometimes one required before) and the requirement of a super majority (2/3) vote of approval by members of the Board of Governors (versus a system that previously admitted members through simple majority votes or silent affirmation by mail). Under the new process, nine Black attorneys were denied membership a cumulative total of 17 times between July 1965 and June 1970.
In response to the NCBA’s denial of membership to Duke law graduate Eric Michaux, the Duke University Law School severed its ties with the NCBA on December 12, 1966. The Duke law faculty voted to sever ties “until such time as all applicants are accepted for membership in the NCBA without discrimination based upon race.” The following April, Julius L. Chambers and Henry Frye were the first Black attorneys admitted to membership in the NCBA, while other Black attorneys were rejected for membership. Eric Michaux was admitted to membership in the NCBA in the summer of 1969.
In June of 1970, the NCBA’s membership voted against supporting the ballot initiative to repeal the literacy test in the North Carolina Constitution that had been enacted through the actions of the 1898 legislature. Voters also rejected the ballot initiative, and the literacy test remains in the North Carolina Constitution today.
As the result of unanimous action by the Board of Governors of the North Carolina Bar Association on November 23, 2020:
The North Carolina Bar Association acknowledges the role that several of its founding members and early officers had in the white supremacy campaign of 1898, the Wilmington Massacre and Coup D’etat of 1898, and the institution of Jim Crow laws in North Carolina, the results of which have harmed generations of Black citizens in North Carolina.
The North Carolina Bar Association acknowledges that the Association resisted integration and issues a full and complete apology to all individuals, known and unknown, who were denied admission to the Association on the basis of race, the results of which have harmed generations of Black attorneys in North Carolina.
The Board of Governors further approved the following actions, unanimously:
- That the President direct the Awards and Recognitions committee, in light of the information gathered, to review the Association’s current named awards, honorees, commemorations and collectibles and to make recommendations to the Board of Governors regarding in particular:
- The recognition of Past Presidents identifiably connected to the white supremacy campaign of 1898, the Wilmington Massacre and Coup D’etat of 1898, and the institution of Jim Crow laws in North Carolina;
- The recognition of other individuals by the Association or Foundation who actively worked to suppress or disenfranchise minority voters, or otherwise promote racism and disenfranchisement in the law; and
- Whether the practice of making named awards should continue, and if so, any additional guidelines.
- That the President appoint a task force for the purpose of more fully researching and telling the story of integration of the Association and to propose such additional steps and actions as may be appropriate to oppose racism and advance the principles of equity and equal justice for all, in the legal profession and for the citizens of our State. In addition, this task force will explore the contributions of the heroic citizens who opposed racism in the history of the Association.
- That the Association publicly and decisively commit to opposing racism and advancing the principles of equality and equal justice for all, in the legal profession and for the citizens of our state, and further commit to taking practical action in its work and contributions with legal education, law firms, corporate counsel, and government and the public, to help our profession and our society promote diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity for all. As part of this commitment, the Association will:
- Advocate for the repeal of the literacy test that remains in the North Carolina Constitution;
- Make diversity, racial equity, and inclusion education available as soon as reasonably possible for its members and employees, and emphasize the importance of including these resources at every appropriate opportunity; and,
- Authorize the Executive Director to create a staff position focused on the advancement of diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity in the legal profession.
The Board of Directors of the North Carolina Bar Foundation approved the following actions unanimously on November 23, 2020:
- That the Executive Director pursue the removal of the plaque recognizing the Governor Charles B. Aycock Justice Fund from display and the repurposing or disposition of the corpus funds that is in keeping with the Foundation’s principles.
- That the President appoint a task force to:
- review and make recommendations regarding the diversity and inclusion of individuals recognized by Foundation Justice Funds; and that the development of Justice Funds that are not already in progress be halted until such work is completed; and,
- Consider and make recommendations to the Board regarding appropriate grant and program initiatives to encourage greater equity, diversity and inclusion in the practice of law and delivery of legal services in North Carolina.
Any media inquiries regarding these actions and the report should be directed to Russell Rawlings, Director of External Affairs and Communications by email at [email protected].