The Thomas J. Pearsall Professorship in Political Science
The Thomas J. Pearsall Professorship in Political Science was endowed in 1986 by Pearsall’s widow, Elizabeth, and sons, Thomas Jr. and Mack. The professorship provides support for political science professors by promoting the study of state and local government and providing funding for research.
Pearsall was born in 1903 in Rocky Mount and entered the University in 1923. While at UNC, Pearsall played football and basketball and lettered in baseball. He was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity and served as vice president of his junior class. He passed the N.C. Bar exam in 1927 and was awarded an honorary LL.D. from UNC in 1961.
Pearsall worked as a prosecuting attorney during the 1930s and later as a farmer, banker and oil distributor. Active in the Democratic Party, he was elected to the N.C. General Assembly in 1941 and served as speaker of the House in 1947. He also served on several state committees on education in the 1950s.
Pearsall is best known as the creator of the 1956 Pearsall Plan, a school desegregation plan adopted by the N.C. General Assembly. Under the plan, responsibility for school desegregation shifted from state to local school boards. Supporters credited Pearsall with finding a moderate approach that succeeded in defusing tensions and keeping public schools in North Carolina open and free from strife during a difficult transition time. Pearsall said the plan “bought time” for integration so that hostile emotions in North Carolina could subside. In 1996, federal courts struck down the plan as unconstitutional.
In 1962, Pearsall was chairman of the UNC trustees committee that set the guidelines for the consolidation of the UNC system universities. At Carolina, Pearsall was a director of the General Alumni Association and a member of the Morehead Scholarship District Selection committee. Additionally, he was the president of the Rocky Mount Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Board of Governors of the Research Triangle Institute, chairman of the board of the Roanoke Island Historical Commission and a trustee of the Children’s Home Society.
Pearsall was married to the former Elizabeth Braswell (now deceased), a 1928 graduate of Salem College. They had two sons, Tom Jr. (’58 B.A.) and Mack (’61 B.A., ’63 J.D.). Pearsall died in 1981 at age 78.
When the professorship was established, UNC President Emeritus William C. Friday said Pearsall “was a great and good citizen. This warm and gentle spirit taught us all by being such a splendid example of a dedicated, unselfish and ethical public servant.”
The Thomas J. Pearsall Professor