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Gwendolyn Harrison Smith wall installation

Sharing Her Story: Honoring Gwendolyn Harrison Smith at Glen Lennox

By Grubb Properties’ Development Team

To further honor the legacy of Gwendolyn Harrison Smith, the first Black woman to enroll at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Grubb Properties recently installed new artwork in the lobby of The Gwendolyn, the building named in her honor.

The Gwendolyn lobby and entry hall now feature several pictures, writings, and documents related to Ms. Smith’s story to ensure that her legacy is shared into the future. We are deeply grateful to Smith’s family for sharing these photos and mementos.

Breaking Down Barriers at UNC-Chapel Hill

Smith is widely credited with opening the doors for other Black students to attend UNC-Chapel Hill. In 1951, the 25-year-old Smith, having already received her undergraduate degree from Spelman College in Atlanta and a master’s degree in Spanish from the University of California, enrolled in a graduate course in Spanish at UNC-Chapel Hill. When UNC administrators discovered she was Black, they declined her registration. With the help of the NAACP, Smith filed a federal lawsuit against the university. Shortly thereafter, UNC-Chapel Hill trustees voted to admit Smith, who ultimately took three more courses at the university.

Documenting Smith’s Legacy Through Art and Poetry

Smith was an avid poet, and the entry hall of The Gwendolyn features a quote from one of her poems, “Class Poem,” alongside a custom illustration sketch based on her UNC student ID card.  

On another part of the wall, the full “Class Poem” is framed as part of the gallery. Surrounding it are several photos of Smith and her family throughout different moments in her life. Her family members graciously provided the photos, including two of her children.

The gallery also contains copies of three documents related to Smith’s enrollment and attempts to attend UNC-Chapel Hill. Smith was issued a student ID card to enroll in the 1952 summer session and filled out a student housing application to secure a space in a UNC-Chapel Hill dormitory. There is also a copy of correspondence between Smith and D.B. House, UNC’s Chancellor, concerning her enrollment status.

Preserving History while Preparing for a Bright Future

To honor Smith’s resolve and mission to attain the educational opportunities available to others, Grubb Properties donated $100,000 for UNC-Chapel Hill to establish a scholarship fund in her name.  The Gwendolyn Harrison Smith Diversity Graduate Student Excellence Fund will provide financial support for graduate student research activities while strengthening the campus through diversity.

The Gwendolyn is a four-story 109,000-square-foot, Class A office building in the Glen Lennox neighborhood of Chapel Hill. It addresses a critical shortage of commercial office space in Chapel Hill. It features a host of amenities, including an upscale café and coffee bar called Coco, an indoor cycle center, and an onsite wellness studio with showers and locker rooms.

Naming the office building for Gwendolyn Smith is part of Grubb’s ongoing efforts to preserve the best of Glen Lennox while positioning the community for the future. The community will also honor other trailblazers, including a “pocket park” named for brothers Ralph and LeRoy Frasier, who, along with John Brandon, helped desegregate UNC-Chapel Hill in 1955 as the first Black undergraduates.

The second phase of development at Glen Lennox is underway, with another Link Apartments community, better infrastructure for biking and pedestrian access, and new retail and office space. You can read more about the next phase of development here.