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William Bradley Umstead

May 13, 1895 – November 7, 1954


Born in Bahama, Durham County, North Carolina in 1895, William Bradley Umstead graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1916. He taught at a Kinston high school for one year before volunteering for military service in the Great War. Umstead served in Europe with the 317th Machine Gun Battalion of the 81st Wildcat Division. In 1920, he was licensed to practice law having studied at Trinity College (now known as Duke University) after the war. In 1921, he opened his Durham Office.1

Umstead was elected Durham County Prosecutor in 1922 and solicitor in 1926. He served three terms as a U.S. Congressman beginning in 1932. By 1938, he returned to practicing law for a short period before being appointed to a U.S. Senate seat by Governor R. Gregg Cherry in 1938 after the death of Josiah Bailey. He completed Cherry’s remaining two year term while gaining popularity amongst Democrats.

In 1952, Umstead attempted to create a “better tomorrow,” as North Carolina’s sixty-third governor. In 1954, during Umstead’s governorship, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision on Brown v. Board of Education, requiring public school integration. In response, Umstead appointed a biracial commission of nineteen members to make recommendations concerning how to accomplish integration to the North Carolina General Assembly.2 Suffering a heart attack two days after his inauguration, Umstead spent much of his gubernatorial term bedridden. He died from congestive heart failure in November of 1954.3

In 1955, East Carolina opened the first of its dorms along the Tenth Street edge of campus. Built to accommodate 310 male students, it was renovated in 1960 to accommodate the housing of female and a lobby was added. On April 1, 1962, the dormitory was dedicated in honor of Umstead.