After 14-months and many celebrations, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke officially turned the page on May 4 to begin its next 125 years. A great deal was learned along the way. The legend of UNCP’s founding and its continuing growth were revisited. Some forgotten history was dusted off with a fresh telling.
- View 125 in 125 photo gallery which reviews the 125th anniversary celebration in 125 photos
One lesson learned is that elder members of our university community have wonderful memories of their time here. With immense joy, they shared their stories at several events.
Time did not stand still during the celebration; new history was made. The future School of Southeastern American Indian Studies was announced by Chancellor Kyle R. Carter just hours after the March 14, 2012, kick-off. He promised it would become a signature program. UNCP will take advantage of its location in the heart of largest tribe in the East, and its existing programs, to become the premier site for the study of Indians of the Southeastern U.S.
Announcement of the future School of Southeastern American Indian Studies
Also, the Board of Governors, UNC governing body, made a historic visit to meet and to help celebrate UNCP’s anniversary. Gov. Pat McCrory took advantage of the moment to address the board and make his first official visit to campus.
Chancellor Kyle R. Carter (right) with North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory
There are many challenges for the future of the institution. But challenges were a part of the school’s history too, beginning with its founding in 1887. North Carolina’s initial appropriation of $500 came with a contingency that might have been an insurmountable obstacle for a community less determined.
Land had to be purchased and a schoolhouse erected entirely with local resources before the state’s money could be used solely for teacher salaries. The blood sweat and tears of local Indian people was the real cost of the founding. This community’s feeling of ownership of its school began here.
It is important to remember that in 1887 the school did not begin life as a college. In its first years, Croatan Normal School did not go past the eighth grade. When D.F. Lowry earned the first diploma in 1905, there was no standardized curriculum. As he said: “Students were allowed to study anything they could handle.”
OLD MAIN REVISITED
Old Main architect Sam Snowden, seated on left, greets Old Main general contractor Ronald Nye. Seated is inspector Hiram Jones and Linda Nye
Beginning in 1923, a few years before the first college degrees were awarded, Old Main was the only classroom building for the next 25 years, and its auditorium seated 700 people. When Chancellor English Jones got the funds to replace it with a larger auditorium in 1971, Old Main was a dilapidated structure. At this time, the university had neither land for a new building nor money to renovate the university’s most historic building.
The cause of the fire that ravaged Old Main in 1973 remains a mystery, but additional research points to a perpetrator who lit several other fires during this time frame. But it was the destruction of Old Main that probably saved it. Moved to action by the tragedy, Gov. James Holshouser stood on the steps of the burned building and promised to rebuild it.
Another forgotten fact is that the man who supervised the rebuilding of Old Main, Ronald Nye, is a 1968 graduate. He attended the 90th anniversary celebration of Old Main in March 2013.
Further research has revealed that Christian White, the college’s first white student and graduate, enrolled in the fall of 1952 before the state legislature officially blessed opening the school to whites in 1953. White graduated in 1954. It was also confirmed that Larry Barnes was the first African American student to enroll in 1967. The first Black graduate in 1969 was Sylvia Baugham Banks, a transfer student who enrolled in the fall of 1967. At several special events, both expressed pride in this accomplishment.
Among the celebrations, the school’s red-tailed hawk costumed mascot got a new name, BraveHawk. It was confirmed by University Historian Lawrence Locklear, that the Braves nickname was adopted in 1946 to cheer on the university’s first football team.
And who didn’t need to be reminded of the life and work of photographer Elmer Hunt? His vast collection of photographs tells the story of the university and community over four decades following World War II. His work has been preserved with loving care by the staff of the Mary Livermore Library in the Elmer W. Hunt Photograph Collection, viewable online at www.uncp.edu/library/special/digital/hunt/.
Larry Barnes and Sylvia Baugham Banks
The school’s history was also captured in words. Emma Locklear spoke at her 50th year reunion in 2012 and later during the year at a “Reflections” event. Work in tobacco and cotton fields motivated her to earn a college degree, she said. Locklear helped establish a scholarship, she said, to “make sure the door I walked through would be open for others to follow me.”
Nell (Skinner) Lyon of Lumberton was Emma’s classmate and among the first handful of local white students to enter the university. She recalled that her advisor, Clifton Oxendine ‘24, was “a perfectly delightful and helpful man.” She returned years later to earn a master’s degree.
At the “African-American Firsts” event Larry Barnes admitted that he was not prepared for college and found himself on academic probation. He said the best thing the university did for him was to hold him to the same standard as other student.
Barnes recalled how difficult Professor James Ebert’s anatomy class was. Ebert, whose career in Pembroke touched five decades, remembered that the school did not always have adequate resources. “I had a box of bones and a model torso.” Without textbooks, Ebert improvised by learning to draw body parts. “They were great students though,” he said.
The university closed the book on its celebrations at Spring 2013 commencement. Keynote speaker Arlinda Locklear drew on the lessons of the university’s founders to challenge the next generation of graduates “to live lives of purpose.”
The founders, she said, were visionaries who could not have guessed how wonderful their creation would become. “The founding fathers of this university realized that their vision required hard work, it requires dedication, it requires commitment and it requires persistence. When you apply these values, anything is possible. Dare to be as bold at they were.”
It is the challenge for the next 125 years. To learn more about the university’s history, look for the publication of an updated history some time during fall 2013.