The university is sharing profiles of some of the many “Tar Heels who have left their heelprint on the campus, their communities, the state, the nation and the world.” On November 14, the university featured a profile of 1929 graduate Henry Owl, a member of the Eastern band of Cherokee Indians who was the first person of color to be admitted to –– and graduate from –– the university. At UNC, Mr. Owls’ master’s thesis was titled “The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians: Before and After the Removal.” In 1930, Mr. Owl was denied the right on the grounds that Indians were illiterate; he presented his thesis to the county voting registrar. But he was denied a second time on the grounds that Cherokees were wards of the government and not US citizens, in opposition to a 1924 law. Owl later testified before Congress, which then passed a law guaranteeing the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians citizenship and the right to vote.
The profile of Mr. Owl notes that Jenner & Block Partner Andrew W. Vail, a 1999 UNC graduate who concentrated in American Indian history, established the Henry Owl Scholarship Fund for Undergraduate Students. The scholarship provides need-based funds to one or more undergraduate majors in the American studies department, with a preference for students in American Indian and indigenous studies.
“My major concentration was in Native American history, so I felt an immediate connection to Owl’s background,” Mr. Vail said in a 2014 interview with the university. “The distinction of being the first person of color to get a degree from Carolina is extremely significant and something that should be recognized. Also, Owl’s lifelong dedication to education –– to building a better life for himself, his family and community and those around him –– it all struck a chord in me.”