Frank Porter Graham, University of North Carolina president and U.S. Senator, was born on October 14, 1886, to Alexander and Katherine Bryan Loan Graham of Fayetteville. The family moved to Charlotte where the elder Graham served as superintendent of the Charlotte school system for twenty-five years. Graham graduated from Charlotte High School and the University of North Carolina. Although he studied law at Chapel Hill and received his license, he never practiced. Graham pursued graduate work in history at Columbia, the University of Chicago, the Brookings Institute, and the London School of Economics.
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Frank Graham was selected to be a history instructor at UNC in 1914, but soon left to serve in the United States Marines during World War I. As a Marine, Graham was elevated to the rank of first lieutenant before returning to Chapel Hill as an assistant professor in the history department. Despite his lack of a doctorate degree, Graham’s exceptional teaching ability secured him a full professorship in 1927. Only three years later, he became president of the university. When the University of North Carolina, North Carolina State College, and the North Carolina College for Women merged in 1932, Graham became the first president of the Consolidated University of North Carolina.
In 1949 Frank Graham resigned from the UNC system to accept an appointment by Governor Kerr Scott to fill the vacant United States Senate seat caused by J. Melville Broughton’s death. Graham’s 1950 Democratic primary race against Willis Smith for the senate seat has become legendary for the mudslinging and posturing. Graham lost the primary but maintained a commitment to public service. Having previously served on a United Nations committee, he was appointed in 1951 as United Nations mediator and representative to India and Pakistan in the Kashmir dispute. Graham was an assistant secretary general of the United Nations before retiring in 1967 for health reasons. He returned to Chapel Hill where he died in 1972. He is buried in the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery. The 1968 student union building at Chapel Hill bears Graham’s name.
John Ehle, Dr. Frank: Life With Frank Porter Graham (1993)
James Clotfelter, ed., Frank Porter Graham: Service to North Carolina and the Nation (1993)
Julian M. Pleasants and Augustus M. Burns III, Frank Porter Graham and the 1950 Senate Race in North Carolina (1990)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, II, 332-333—sketch by J. Carlyle Sitterson
Howard E. Covington Jr. and Marion A. Ellis, eds., The North Carolina Century: Tar Heels Who Made a Difference, 1900-2000 (2002)
Biographical Guide to the United States Congress Online: