Tag Archives: Alfred Brophy

Henry Frye’s portrait at Supreme Court alongside Thomas Ruffin’s


Brooks Pierce photograph of Henry Frye

Henry Frye’s portrait was unveiled at the North Carolina Supreme Court last Tuesday afternoon. It will be hung in the courtroom, as portraits of every other North Carolina Chief Justice have been since Chief Justice Ruffin’s was put up in 1858.

Chief Justice Thomas Ruffin was among the most distinguished North Carolinians of his day. He was a jurist of the first rank. Authorities such as Chief Justice William Howard Taft and Justice Felix Frankfurter ranked him as a pioneer in adapting the English common law to the quasi-frontier conditions in the United States.His decisions were followed more than any others by the southern and western courts. Roscoe Pound rated him one of the ten foremost jurists in the United States.

Mathew Brady photograph of Thomas Ruffin

Mathew Brady photograph of Thomas Ruffin

Today though, Justice Ruffin is most often remembered for his opinion in State v. Mann (1829), on the incidents of slavery. In short, he concluded that a slaveholder was not liable for abusing an enslaved person and was within his rights to beat a slave savagely without cause. Contemporary scholars have concluded that Ruffin, himself a slaveholder and at one time a slave trader, was actively seeking to protect the institution of slavery in State v. Mann and other opinions, and was, in his personal life, a cruel slave master.

Justice Ruffin’s is the earliest portrait in the courtroom. Justice Frye’s will become the latest.

Speakers last Tuesday (Chief Justice Martin, Governor Hunt, US Court of Appeals Judge Wynn, and Brooks Pierce partner, Jim Williams), celebrated Chief Justice Frye as one of the most distinguished North Carolinians of his day, and also a first rank jurist.

Henry Frye is North Carolina’s first African American Chief Justice. He was the first African American member elected to the North Carolina General Assembly in the 20th Century. He is a champion of voting rights for African Americans and disenfranchised people; and Tuesday’s speakers universally affirmed that, in his person, Henry Frye is a gentle man.

Esse quam videri. Ruffin and Frye.


Supreme Court of North Carolina


Titanic struggle, North Carolina business, lawyers, history — epic telling of long ago story

Brophy photo of Mebane Luten Bridge

Prof. Alfred Brophy photograph of Mebane Bridge

What an extraordinary story.

A landmark legal opinion written by a fabled judge. A titanic battle between forces of the agrarian past and the industrial future. The construction of a gleaming bridge across a winding river in the wilderness – with no roads connecting the bridge on either side. The bridge built in the face of a repudiated contract. A baron of industry. Properties initially developed by North Carolina’s legendary John Motley Morehead. Two separate groups claiming to be the legitimate board of county commissioners. Democrats, Republicans.

It happened in Rockingham County, North Carolina. The case was Rockingham County v. Luten Bridge Company35 F.2d 301 (4th Cir. 1929). The prevailing lawyers were partners in the firm that became Brooks Pierce McLendon Humphrey & Leonard.

Behind it all sits the perennial North Carolina policy debate, still current: should public funds be levied and invested to build the infrastructure of a new economy and how? How should infrastructure and the education of the people be provided for?

I have just become aware of the great telling of that story and the rooting out of its many facets in A Bridge, a Tax Revolt, and the Struggle to Industrialize: The Story and Legacy of Rockingham County v. Luten Bridge Co., by Barak Richman, Jordi Weinstock, and Jason Mehta, 84 North Carolina Law Review 1841 (2006).

 Well done. There’s only a hint of sex, or it coulda been a movie.