Man who helped desegregate university passes away after battle with cancer

John Lewis Brandon passed away in January at the age of 80. He lived a quiet life in Clear Lake with his family. His humble beginnings in Durham, N.C. helped him become a strong, determined young man, and a pioneer for African American students at the University of North Carolina.

"He was strong willed, he was determined and he singularly focused on whatever purpose or plan he had.” said John's ex-wife Margie Brandon. That focus was the desire for higher education.

In 1955, John, along with brothers LeRoy and Ralph Frasier, were denied admission to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill because they were African American. That decision was overturned by a federal court judge and the three young men became the first African Americans to attend the university.

“They were just taught, you’re not entitled, you have to work for it, nothing is handed to you want on a silver platter, is what I’m trying to say, you got to get out there and get it,” said John's daughter Tracye Brandon.

John later completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Houston and also received a master’s degree in chemistry, all while serving 13 years in the U.S. Navy. He worked more than 20 years as a senior research chemist at Dow Chemical.

UNC released the following statement:

John was a courageous pioneer who played a formative and historic role, sacrificing to break down barriers and integrate America’s first public university. 

“We cannot be more appreciative of his contribution to the nation,” said UNC chancellor Carol L. Folt.

LeRoy Frasier passed away in December 2017 in New York City at the age of 80 years old. John's other brother Ralph Frasier is still alive, living in Jacksonville, Florida.