Henry E. Frye was born on August 1, 1932 in Ellerbe, North Carolina. On his parents fifty acres of land, Frye farmed tobacco and cotton. During the 1930s and 1940s he attended segregated schools; however during his childhood, he remembered playing with white children outside of school.
After leaving Ellerbe in the late 1940s to attend North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, Frye became involved in Air Force ROTC and student government. Graduating from A&T with highest honors, he entered the United States Air Force earned the rank of captain before leaving after four years of service.
Upon returning from the military, Frye attempted to register to vote in his hometown only to be required to pass a test in order to vote. As a consequence of being denied the right to vote after failing a so-called "literacy test", he decided to become a lawyer. In 1959, Frye graduated from the University of North Carolina Law School.
Justice Frye’s political career began in 1963 when he became the first African American assistant United States District Attorney. Five years later, Justice Frye of Guilford County became the first African American to be elected to the North Carolina General Assembly in the twentieth century. Following his six terms in the House, Justice Frye was elected to the state Senate, serving one term. Governor James B. Hunt appointed him, in 1983 to the North Carolina Supreme Court, where he became the first African American to sit on the North Carolina Supreme Court. In 1999, Governor Hunt appointed him to chief justice.
Justice Frye currently is employed with Brooks Pierce Law Firm in Greensboro, North Carolina.