From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Frye, Helen Fisher

(born: June 24, 1918  -  died: November 26, 2014) 

Helen F. Frye was born in Danville, KY. In 1963 she became the first African American woman to receive a library science degree from the ALA-accredited library school at the University of Kentucky. [James R. O'Rourke graduated from the UK Library School in 1957, and may be the first African American graduate.] Frye and two other students attempted to attend a University of Kentucky extension class taught in Danville in 1954, but they were forced to drop the class because they were African Americans. Though the university graduate program was integrated in 1949, it only applied to students who took classes on campus. Frye filed a lawsuit, but it was dropped when none of the other African American students would testify that they too had been forced to drop the extension class.

Later Frye went to the University of Kentucky campus to earn her library degree. In 2006, she was nominated by Danville native Frank X. Walker for the University of Kentucky's Lyman T. Johnson Award, then chosen as one of the two recipients by the UK Libraries and the UK School of Library and Information Science to receive the award for her many years of service as a librarian, teacher, and civil rights activist. One of her oral history interviews is included in the Civil Rights Movement in the Kentucky Oral History Project at the Kentucky Historical Society. There is an oral history interview in the Centre College Special Collections in Danville. There is an oral history interview at Eastern Kentucky University that was done by David R. Davis as part of the Danville School Integration Project. There are two oral history interviews at the University of Kentucky, one in the African American Alumni Project, and one in the Lexington Urban League Project.

Among her many accomplishments, Helen Fisher Frye helped organize the first integrated production on the Centre College campus in 1951: Porgy and Bess, featuring Danville native R. Todd Duncan. Helen F. Frye was one of the first African American students to enroll at Centre College. In addition to her library degree, she earned her B.A. in elementary education at Kentucky State University in 1942, and an M.A. in secondary education from Indiana University in 1949. Helen Fisher Frye died November 26, 2014, she was 96 years old. She was the daughter of George and Lettie Fisher. 

For a more complete account of her accomplishments, see the obituary for Helen Fisher Fry in The Advocate Messenger newspaper, 12/04/2014. For more see Library Service to African Americans in Kentucky, by R. F. Jones; Fifty Years of the University of Kentucky African-American Legacy, 1949-1999; and Helen F. Frye's oral history interviews.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Boyle County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Danville, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Item Relations

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Frye, Helen Fisher,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed May 21, 2024,

Last modified: 2022-11-03 16:25:19