UC Berkeley professor emeritus, civil rights activist Hardy Frye dies at 82

Remembered for his dedication to civil rights activism, Hardy Frye, UC Berkeley professor emeritus of African American studies, died June 16 at the age of 82.

Growing up in segregated Alabama, Frye became involved in civil rights activism during the 1960s. He would later go on to teach at UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley, staying involved with social justice efforts, according to the GoFundMe created by Frye’s family members.

“In general he was always like a benign presence, that was something everyone appreciated,” said Ugo Nwokeji, campus associate professor of African American studies. “Everyone accepted him and put him on a pedestal and he remained there because he deserved it. For me, it was actually a privilege to have known him.”

Nwokeji met Frye when the latter joined the campus department of African American studies and African diaspora studies and remembers talking with Frye about current events in Africa. He said Frye was “grounded” and well-respected for his wisdom among staff.

Nwokeji added that Frye’s kindness stood out and made him the kind of person with whom everyone got along easily.

“In the UC System, He worked for several decades formulating and implementing policies to ensure fairness and equity,” said campus professor of African American studies Stephen Small in an email. “I persuaded him to come back to teaching to share his insights with a new generation of students and scholars; a generation born and raised in California with no first-hand knowledge of Civil Rights in the US South.”

Having spent his childhood in Tuskegee, Alabama, Frye learned about Black history from his teachers. After serving in the Army, he moved to Los Angeles and became involved in activism, picketing the 1960 Democratic National Convention, according to the GoFundMe.

Frye also volunteered to register Black voters during Mississippi Freedom Summer, where he faced police resistance, “unaware that he was making history,” the GoFundMe reads.

Frye later enrolled at Sacramento City College and Sacramento State University, eventually going on to attend UC Berkeley as a graduate student, according to the GoFundMe. Frye would subsequently earn a campus degree in sociology.

According to Leigh Raiford, campus associate professor of African American studies, Frye was one of the first Black doctoral students at UC Berkeley. Frye was also active in the Third World Liberation Front strikes.

Continuing his activism after college, Frye became the director of the U.S. Peace Corps in Guyana and director of the Urban School Collaborative Project, according to the GoFundMe.

In 2014, Frye was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia and struggled with congestive heart failure prior to his death but continued with his interest in social justice and community service, the GoFundMe explained.

“It is with great sadness but also deep and enduring memories that we will mourn him,” Small said in the email. “We have lost a friend and a champion of social justice.”

Contact Emma Taila at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @emmataila