Documents reveal NCCU’s early struggles
Published: Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Updated: Friday, November 20, 2009 11:11
Both the struggle and character of N.C. Central University's founding days are revealed in recent archival documents provided to the Campus Echo.
The documents, courtesy of the Rockefeller Archive Center in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., provide a fascinating account of NCCU's first two decades: from its days as the National Religious Training School and Chautauqua in 1910, to its transformation into the National Training School, then to the state supported Durham State Normal School, and then to the North Carolina College for Negroes.
The documents include founder James E. Shepard's correspondence, appeals for support and Rockefeller General Education Board reports.
The documents tell the story of the institution's early financial struggles, its religious foundation, and its philosophy of education.
NCCU began as a normal school -- a school that trains high school graduates to become teachers.
One 1921 document provides Shepard's background: He graduated from Shaw University in 1894 at the age of 19. He was employed as a pharmacist in Durham, worked for the Internal Revenue Service, and was appointed General Field Secretary of the International Sunday School Association in 1905.
In a 1909 handwritten appeal for support to a Dr. Wallace Buttrick of New Jersey Shepard wrote "There can be no question that if such institutions are needed for the white race … that to a greater degree ... one would be of much help to the colored race."
The appeal is accompanied with testimonials from Theordore Roosevelt and Durham Mayor, W.J. Griswold.
"Your plan is certainly an admirable one, as you intend to supplement the industrial and higher education of your people by a special religious training," wrote Roosevelt.
Griswold wrote that the school would be " a great help to the educational, moral and religious uplifting of the colored race."
There's also the account of the financial crisis of 1915 when the school described as "badly involved financially" was sold at auction to the Golden Belt Realty Company.
But in 1916 the school, which consisted of 34 acres and nine buildings, was bought back for about $42,000.
Key to the repurchase was a $25,000 donation from New York philanthropist Mrs. Margaret Olivia Russell Sage. In today's dollars the donation would be equal to $1/2 million.
"We owe a great deal to Mrs. Russell Sage," said Andre Vann, university archivist. "Without that contribution the school would have, in essence, closed it's doors."
Over her lifetime Sage, founder of the Russell Sage Foundation, gave $120,000 -- about $2.5 million in today's dollars -- to support NCCU in its early days.
In 1923 North Carolina purchased the school for $80,000 and assumed it's debt of about $50,000.
In documents recounting that transition from the National Training School to the Durham State Normal School for Negroes, the school's philosophy of education and rules are itemized.
"The institution stands for a sound Christian character, a sound body, a trained mind, and a well-directed industrial training," says one document.
Profanity, pool playing, dancing between the sexes, and leaving grounds without permission were prohibited.
Students were limited to participation in two campus organizations and two hours of Bible study were required each week.
Students failing to provide a minimum of 28 hours work at the school had to pay the school 10¢ per hour.