Born in 1924 in East Flat Rock, North Carolina, William Darity earned a bachelor’s degree from Shaw University, and a master’s in public health from North Carolina Central University. In 1964, he became the first Black recipient of a doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, taking only two years to complete his doctorate in public health.
Before pursuing his doctorate at Chapel Hill, Darity's international experience included 10 years with the World Health Organization (WHO). During his tenure at WHO, he taught at the American University of Beirut's School of Public Health in Lebanon and at the University of Alexandria's Higher Institute of Public Health in Egypt. He also served as a health consultant with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Arab Refugees and as a WHO regional advisor for 17 countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, which included 11 Arab countries, as well as Israel, Cyprus, Iran, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Pakistan and West Pakistan (now Bangladesh), with an emphasis on malaria eradication.
After working for two years with the anti-poverty agency, the North Carolina Fund, Darity accepted an associate professor appointment at UMass Amherst in 1965. At that time, the small Department of Public Health, which offered a bachelor’s degree and a master’s with a concentration in environmental health, had three full-time faculty members. Darity was appointed department head in 1968, and then dean of the School of Health Sciences in 1973.
In addition to divisions of public health and nursing, this newly created School of Health Sciences included a Department of Communication Disorders, which offered majors and graduate study in audiology and speech and language disorders. At his urging upon his retirement, the Division of Public Health became the School of Public Health with its own dean, and the Division of Nursing became the School of Nursing, also with its own dean.
Darity’s last major responsibility at UMass Amherst was to serve as principal investigator of a $3.4 million, five-year National Cancer Institute research study on smoking and cancer in Black populations. This important investigation explored the factors affecting smoking adoption and accompanying health risks among middle-income and low-income Black people.
Darity was a decades-long leader and pioneer in the fields of public health, international health inequities, and the health status of marginalized populations. He was also a leading advocate of tobacco control.
After retirement, he served as senior associate and deputy director for Asia and the Near East for the Population Council of New York, and as a consultant on several research projects at the University of Maryland's School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Darity served on the board of trustees at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill between 1985 and 1991.
He received an honorary doctorate from Shaw University in 1990, the school’s Alumni Achievement Award in 1997, and was honored as an outstanding alumnus in 2015. He was named a Distinguished Alumnus by the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill in 1996, and was inducted into the Golden Rams Society there in 2014. Darity was also given a Distinguished Service Award from the University of North Carolina's School of Public Health Alumni Association in 1977.