Honoring Charles E. Daye, Henry Brandis Professor of Law emeritus

December 29, 2022
Charles Daye Portrait

Dear Carolina Law family:

I write to share news of the passing of our beloved Charles E. Daye, Henry Brandis Professor of Law emeritus. 

Our loss of Charles is momentous for us all in so many ways. No letter can convey the breadth and depth of his contributions across five decades to our school community. Not all knew him, but his importance to Carolina Law is such that we should all join in thanksgiving for his life, his example, and his humanity.

Charles Daye was the best of us all—an extraordinary human being who taught, mentored, guided, lead and served on a level that directly or indirectly touched innumerable lives. There is a reason why the Charles E. Daye Service Award is presented annually to a faculty member whose exemplary public service can be measured by time, effort and creativity, as well as by its impact on the community.

Charles was an honors undergraduate student at North Carolina Central University. After  graduating from Columbia University Law School, he became the first Black law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, where he clerked for Chief Judge Harry Phillips. He worked in private practice with Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C. before joining the Carolina Law faculty in 1972, becoming our first Black tenure-track faculty member.

Charles left Carolina Law in 1981 to serve as the dean of North Carolina Central University Law School, returning to Carolina in 1985, where he remained on faculty until his retirement in 2014. Thus, Charles represents a special bond between Carolina Law and NCCU Law, our sister state law school.

Charles’s career in legal education was rich with scholarship and public service alike. He co-authored Housing and Community Development and North Carolina Law of Torts, both of which are considered foundational in their respective fields. He wrote essays, published articles, book reviews and monographs on subjects ranging across educational diversity, housing, torts, ethics in law school admissions, affirmative action and academic support programs.

In the later part of his career, Charles served as deputy director of the UNC Center for Civil Rights. At UNC-Chapel Hill and beyond, he served on countless committees and boards including the University’s Committee on Scholarships and Student Aid, the University’s Diversity and Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board, president and spokesperson for the Law School Admission Council, and the special Diversity Task Force for the Association of American Law Schools. He co-wrote an amicus brief that helped persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to allow university admission offices to consider race to enhance diversity. Charles was also a founding member of the Carolina Black Caucus, the oldest affinity group for Black faculty and staff at Carolina and one that has supported Black faculty, staff, and students for 48 years.

Perhaps most memorably for our Carolina Law family, Charles was for decades the faculty adviser to the UNC Black Law Students Association. He was an example, a mentor and an inspiration for countless students inside the classroom and out.  This is one place where a letter like this one must fail of its purpose. Only the students who knew him in these capacities can say, with all due factual accuracy and eloquence, Charles’s importance to their lives and their development as lawyers. For those who would like to share remembrances of Charles, please fill out this form. We will be sharing these memories with the Daye family in a keepsake book. And for those who would like to honor Charles with a donation to the Black Law Student Association Current Use Fund, donations can be made here.

Diversity was extremely important to Charles. He fought to improve the diversity of Carolina’s student body, faculty and staff. He knew UNC-Chapel Hill had fought racial integration in the courts when Black students sought admission to Carolina Law in the early 1950s. Reflecting on his decision to come to Carolina he said, “I came into an environment where the law school had already made this commitment to diversity. I was nurtured, helped and accepted in every conceivable way, and that has made all the difference.”

Charles is the one who made that difference. Upon learning of Charles’s passing, the phrases some of his faculty colleagues used to describe him were: “an exceptional leader and amazing professor and scholar,” “a wonderful, generous, kind man,” “he was generous, kind, brilliant, and patient,” a wonderful mentor and colleague,” “a true inspiration for us all,” “best of the best,” “a defining Tar Heel,” and “his intellect and humanity were unmatched.”

On October 7, 2020, Carolina Law dedicated the portrait above, painted by Durham-based artist and UNC-CH alumnus William Paul Thomas. The commissioned portrait is displayed on the fifth floor of Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, just outside two of our classrooms, in honor of the legacy of a man who helped encourage and support students at both of North Carolina’s public law schools for nearly fifty years. The students of today go to and from class under his benevolent, encouraging smile. I like to think that as they glance at Charles, something of his warmth and encouragement passes into their souls.

Charles loved his family, his colleagues, his students and his community.  We loved him in return. His extraordinary life overlapped with those of everyone fortunate enough to know him. We are all better for it. For those who never met him, you are direct beneficiaries of the ways he served this school and his community.

Charles once said that an ancient Greek proverb spoke to him:  “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they shall never sit in.”  It’s safe to say that Charles E. Daye planted a vast forest that shades all of us.

Charles’s homegoing service will be held on Tuesday, January 3, 2023 at 11:00 a.m. at Markham Chapel Baptist Church, 3630 Old Chapel Hill Road, Durham, N.C. 27707.

Yours faithfully,

Martin H. Brinkley ’92
Dean and William Rand Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor