Opened in 1921 as a dormitory, Steele housed students until the late 1950s, when it was renovated and converted to office space. Beginning in 1951, Steele was the home of UNC's first African American students. After court rulings forced the university to admit African American graduate students in 1951 and undergraduates in 1955, these pioneering students found a campus that was still largely segregated. In an arrangement that continued for several years, all African American students were assigned dorms on the third floor of Steele. Even though many empty rooms were left on the floor, no other students lived there.
Steele was also home in the 1950s and 1960s to the university-run Book Exchange (at one point called the Booketeria), which sold textbooks and school supplies. The rest of the building was converted to office space in 1958 and has since housed many different campus offices.
The building is named for alumnus Walter Leake Steele (class of 1844). Steele served several terms in the state legislature and was a member of the state secession convention prior to the Civil War. After the war he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and later worked in the textile industry in his native Richmond County. He was a longtime member of the UNC Board of Trustees.
Date Established: 1921
Date Range: 1921 – Present