Frank Porter Graham was born on October 14, 1886 in Fayetteville, North Carolina. In 1909, he graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) with a degree in law and went on to earn his graduate degree in history from Columbia University in 1916. Graham’s teaching career began as a high school English instructor from 1911-1913 at a school in Raleigh, N.C.. After two years of teaching, Graham returned to Chapel Hill to become the secretary of the local YMCA. He was given a position at UNC as an instructor in history in 1914 and later volunteered for the Marine Corps in 1916, going on to serve in World War I.
After returning home from the war in 1919, Graham continued his career at UNC-Chapel Hill as an assistant professor of history, earning the rank of associate professor in 1925, and full professor in 1927. While at UNC, Graham was a member of the President’s Committee on Education and served as the president of the North Carolina Conference of Social Service. He also founded the Citizen’s Library Movement of North Carolina.
In 1930, Graham was named President of the University of North Carolina. Two year later, the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), North Carolina State College, and the Woman’s College (now UNCG) merged to create the University of North Carolina System. Graham was appointed president of this new organization and served in the role from 1932 until 1949. During his tenure, Graham was known for his intensive lobbying for the continued financial support from the government for universities in North Carolina.
However, his term was not without some controversy. A year after his appointment, Graham traveled to Greensboro, N.C. for the first time to meet with the president of the Woman’s College, Dr. Julius Foust. It was documented that the two men did not agree on the future path of the college. Eventually, Graham called for Foust’s retirement due to his own feelings and recommendations from trustees and faculty members.
During World War II, Graham devoted a lot of his time to public service. He was a member of the National Defense Mediation Board (1941-1942), National War Labor Board, and Maritime War Emergency Board (1942-1946). Following the war, he was appointed to the President’s Committee on Civil Rights in 1946 and in 1947, President Truman asked Graham to serve as the U.S. Representative on the United Nations Committee of Good Offices on the Dutch-Indonesian dispute.
On March 6, 1949, North Carolina U.S. Senator J. Melville Broughton died from a massive heart attack. In filling the vacant seat created by his death, North Carolina Governor W. Kerr Scott appointed Graham to the position. His tenure would be short, serving from March 29, 1949 and until November 26, 1950. Graham ran for the senate seat the follow election, but was unsuccessful in his bid.
In 1951, while serving as defense manpower administrator for the U.S. Department of Labor, Graham was appointed as a United Nations mediator for the dispute between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir boundary. He would devote the remainder of his active political life to the Kashmir dispute before returning to Chapel Hill and retiring in 1967.
Frank Porter Graham died February 16, 1972 in Chapel Hill. The Graham Building on the UNCG campus was named in his memory.