Noteworthy Firsts: Dr. William Alexander Darity, Sr.

At the University Day celebration on October 11, 2016, Chancellor Carol Folt announced a new program to name scholarships after notable “firsts” in UNC history. In recognition of the individuals recognized as pioneers at UNC, the University Archives is publishing blog posts with more information about each of the twenty-one “firsts.” This post is part of that series.

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Darity in 2011. [From University of Massachusetts-Amherst].

Dr. William Alexander Darity, Sr. was born January 15, 1924, in East Flat Rock, North Carolina. He was born to Aden Randall and Elizabeth Smith Darity, neither of whom had an education past 6th grade. Nonetheless, Darity went on to pursue a collegiate education. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Shaw University and his Master’s of Science in Public Health from North Carolina Central University.

In June 1964, he became the first African-American to earn a Ph.D from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in what is now the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health’s Department of Health Behavior, an accomplishment that only took him only two years to complete. His thesis was titled Contraceptive Education: The Relative Cultural and Social Factors Related to Applied Health Education with Special Reference to Oral Contraceptives.

Prior to pursuing his Ph.D., Darity accumulated 10 years of international experience with the World Health Organization, where he focused on malaria eradication. He also spent two years working with The North Carolina Fund, an anti-poverty agency. Afterwards, in 1965, Darity joined the University of Massachusetts-Amherst faculty; there were only three full-time faculty members in the public health department when he joined. Darity also helped to found the Black Caucus of Health Workers of the American Public Health Association (APHA) in the late 1960s. He became head of the department in 1968 and was named dean of the School of Health Sciences in September 1973.  Immediately before his appointment at University of Massachussetts-Amherst, Darity served as Director of Program Development for the North Carolina Fund, Inc. (a statewide, privately funded, non-profit, anti-poverty organization). 

Darity in 1974. [From Gillings School of Global Public Health].

In 1977 he received a Distinguished Service Award from the UNC School of Public Health Alumni Association, and he served as a member of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees from 1985 and 1991. In 1996 UNC named him a distinguished alumnus. In 2014 he was inducted into the Golden Rams Society, a group for alumni who matriculated at the University 50 or more years ago.

Funded by the National Cancer Institute, one of Darity’s final research efforts at University of Massachussetts-Amherst was both extensive and important. He served as the principal investigator for a $3.4 million, five-year research study on smoking and cancer in black populations; the study explored the multitude of factors that lead to smoking and the accompanying health risks among low-income black communities.

After retirement, he continued to use his influence to do good. After his urging upon his retirement, the UoM-Amherst Division of Public Health became a School of Public Health with its own dean. The Division of Nursing also became a School of Nursing with its own dean. Moreover, he served as senior associate and deputy director for the Asia and the Near East for the Population Council of New York. He passed away in 2015 at age 91.

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