- One of the first female black law professors in the country
- First black woman to lead a major Southern law school
- Two years as an Associate Provost at University of North Carolina
- Editor of the Black Law Journal
- Member of the Pulitzer Prize Board
Marilyn Ainsworth Yarbrough, 1945-2004, was an exemplary woman, legal scholar, and university administrator. Specializing in Education Law, she often addressed gender and racial discrimination in her scholarship and teaching. She was a former editor of the Black Law Journal and a member of the Pulitzer Prize Board. She was the first black woman to lead a major Southern law school and one of the first female black law professors in the country. As one friend explained, “She really had a zest for life. She was really a lady of service.”
Ms. Yarbrough received her BA in English from Virginia State University in 1966 and, after a brief career as a systems engineer for IBM and Westinghouse, her law degree from UCLA in 1973. After becoming a law professor through a teaching fellow program at Boston College Law School in 1976, she came to the University of Kansas. At the KU School of Law, she was an Associate Professor for 5 years and a full Professor for 2 more years.
From 1987-1991, she served as Dean of the University of Tennessee College of Law from 1987-1991. No black woman had headed a major Southern law school until that time. She then moved to West Virginia University to serve as the William J. Maier, Jr. Professor of Law. Finally, after a year as visiting professor at the University of North Carolina, she joined the UNC faculty full time and remained there until her death. Her career there included two years as an Associate Provost, time teaching at Nijmegen for the University’s Netherlands exchange program, and leading a chancellor-appointed task force to completely alter the University’s honor system.
Ms. Yarbrough was involved with the American Bar Association, the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, the board of the Pulitzer Prize, and the Black Law Journal, of which she served as editor. Besides various committees at all of the schools she worked at, she was also very involved with the United Way, serving as board President in Lawrence, KS and Knoxville, TN. Associate Dean at the UNC School of Law Gail Agrawal noted, “She was a very active mentor in our community. She was a true role model for our students, particularly for our female students and particularly for our African-American students….She was a very outgoing, very warm person who coalesced us as a community.”
At her funeral, then dean of the UNC School of Law Gene Nichol, stated, “The University of North Carolina has lost one of its greatest leaders and most prized friends. Yarbrough gave much of her professional life to us and we have all benefitted greatly from her efforts, her humor, her insight and her care. Our entire community has been devastated by her loss. We have lost a close, close friend, far too soon.” And her stepsister noted, “Marilyn was many things to many people, but she was always a caregiver.”