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Frank Porter Graham (October 14 1886 - February 16 1972) was a president of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hillmarker and, for a brief period, United States Senator.

Early life

Born in Fayetteville, North Carolinamarker in 1886, one of nine children born to Alexander (September 12, 1844 – November 2, 1934) and Katherine B. Sloan (March 8, 1855 – January 1, 1939). His brother, Moonlight Graham, was a baseball player and inspiration for the film Field of Dreams. Graham graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hillmarker in 1909. He thereafter studied law and received his license in 1913. He received a graduate degree in 1916 from Columbia University. While he was studying law, Graham was a high school teacher in Raleigh, North Carolinamarker. He later embarked on a career as a history professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 1915 until 1930. He interrupted his teaching profession to enlist in 1917 in the United States Marine Corps for service in World War I. He was discharged as a first lieutenant in 1919.

President of the University of North Carolina

In 1930, Graham was named president of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He served until 1949 (when he was appointed as Senator) and was the first president of the Consolidated University of North Carolinamarker.

Graham was mentioned in hearings held by the House Committee Investigating Un-American Activities for his involvement as honorary president of a group alleged to be a Communist front organization. In events that made national news, Graham was labeled a Communist himself, but refused to renounce his association with that particular group or any other group.

United States Senator

In 1948, North Carolina entered a more progressive era of politics. Former state agriculture commissioner W. Kerr Scott extinguished the control of a group including former Governor O. Max Gardner, all of whom hailed from the small city of Shelbymarker. Scott, a pro-Harry Truman Democrat who had supported the New Deal, defeated that group's candidate for governor, the state treasurer Charles M. Johnson, in the party primary.

On taking office in January 1949, Scott brought in his own perceived liberal reformers. Two months after Scott's inauguration, incumbent Junior United States Senator J. Melville Broughton, a former state governor, died in office. Broughton's death provided Scott with a prime opportunity to make a mark in Washington, D.Cmarker.

After three weeks of intense speculation throughout March 1949 as to whom the governor might choose for the Senate, attention focused on individuals ranging from the senator's widow, who expressed no interest; Scott's former campaign manager, Capus Miller Waynick; another Scott supporter, Major Lennox Polk McLendon, a lawyer from Greensboro, North Carolinamarker; former Senator Umstead; and the governor himself. Scott appointed Graham, which shocked many in the state.

At the time of his appointment, Graham had never sought nor served in any political office, an unusual phenomenon at the time for North Carolina senators. Also atypical was that the particular Senate seat Graham occupied was in a period of considerable turnover. Beginning with the death of Senator Josiah W. Bailey in 1946, and concluding with the election of B. Everett Jordan in 1958, no fewer than eight men served in the seat in a dozen years.

Graham faced two opponents in the 1950 Democratic primary, including former Senator Robert R. Reynolds and former Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives Willis Smith. Reynolds received only 10% of the vote, but Smith garnered 41%. Graham polled 49%, one percentage point below the threshold of receiving the nomination outright. Smith could therefore decide if he wanted to engage Graham in a runoff, which Smith initially declined; when Smith's supporters rallied outside his house in a show of support for him, Smith decided to participate in the runoff. Years later, North Carolina abolished runoff primaries if the leading candidate had at least 40% of the vote. Had that procedure been in effect in 1950, Graham would have become the Democratic senatorial nominee in the first primary.

In the runoff, Smith ran as an anti-Truman Democrat. According to his staffers, Smith never said anything outright racist, but some of his supporters released unofficial pamphlets stirring up fears of an integrated society. The campaign was considered the most racist for a senate race in North Carolina since the beginning of popular vote for senators. At the time of the election, few African-Americans were voting in North Carolina because of Jim Crow laws designed to disenfranchise them. Those blacks who were registered usually were Republicans who cast ballots only in routine general elections. Graham was hence unable to appeal to many black voters, and he did not call for immediate integration, either. Graham was not a natural campaigner and hesitated to even ask voters for their vote. His political views were different than most North Carolinians'. In the virtually all-white Democratic primaries, the tactics of Smith's campaign supporters worked along with these other factors, and Smith prevailed by a narrow 52-48%. Graham's supporters mounted a write-in candidacy for the November general election, but he received only one-half of one percent, and Smith won in a landslide against a desultory GOP opponent.


After his short Senate stint, Graham entered the field of world politics and diplomacy. He served as a mediator at the United Nations as a representative to Indiamarker and Pakistanmarker in the Kashmirmarker dispute, serving in in this capacity from 1951 through 1967. He retired from U.N. service in 1967 at the age of 81 and returned to Chapel Hill, after his wife died.

Graham died in Chapel Hill, North Carolinamarker aged 85. He is interred at the Old Chapel Hill Cemeterymarker. Some nine months after Graham's death, his former Senate seat went to a former aide to the late Willis Smith, Jesse Helms, who also became the first popularly elected Republican U.S. senator from North Carolina.

The student union building at UNC-Chapel Hill is named in Graham's honor, as is the Frank Porter Graham Elementary School in Chapel Hill, and the Frank Porter Graham Building on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Greensboromarker. Graham, along with Eleanor Roosevelt and Hubert Humphrey and other anticommunist liberals of the era, was affiliated with the liberal interest group, the Americans for Democratic Action.

The baseball career of Graham's brother, Archibald Wright "Moonlight" Graham, was popularized in the W. P. Kinsella novel Shoeless Joe and the 1989 film it inspired, Field of Dreams.


  1. Frank Porter Graham biography; UNC-TV; Viewed January 10, 2009.
  • Finley, Keith M. Delaying the Dream: Southern Senators and the Fight Against Civil Rights, 1938-1965 (Baton Rouge, LSU Press, 2008).

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