Dr. Adolph L. Dial was once described as “a man for all seasons” largely due to his vast and varied life experiences which he readily shared with both students at UNC Pembroke and his community. His goal was always to inspire and make his world better than he found it.
A key figure in the history of the university and Lumbee Tribe, Dial founded the American Indian Studies department and served 30 years as a faculty member directly influencing generations of students—an impact evidenced in the region’s leaders of today who called him a mentor, teacher and scholar.
More than two decades since his passing, Dial’s legacy is being honored once again at UNC Pembroke with the naming of the Dr. Adolph L. Dial Endowed Professorship of American Indian Studies.
Recently, the Board of Trustees approved the naming of a $1.5 million endowed professorship that university leaders say will be instrumental in developing a future School for Southeast American Indian Studies. The professorship includes a competitive salary, a travel and research stipend giving UNCP an edge to attract world-renowned experts to join the university’s faculty.
“Few individuals are as iconic in the history of UNCP as Dr. Dial. The Board of Trustees has recognized his contributions by naming a building in his honor previously. To now establish the Dr. Adolph L. Dial Endowed Professorship in our Department of American Indian Studies, a department he established, shows the deep impact he’s had and the high esteem and respect he commands,” said Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings.
UNCP’s chancellor is not alone in expressing heartfelt appreciation. When learning the news, Dial’s family expressed feelings of deep gratitude for the continued acknowledgment of his accomplishments because they say UNCP was a source of profound pride for Adolph Dial.
“The university meant the world to my father, and the fact that he is going to be recognized in this way is a wonderful tribute to him,” said Mary Doris Dial Caple, daughter of Adolph Dial. “The university has meant so much to our family all these years. We are very thankful for him to continue to be recognized. It means an awful lot to us.”
The newly named endowed professorship celebrates the legacy of Dial and affirms the commitment of the university to the foundation he established. After founding the AIS department in 1972, Dial would go on to serve 16 years as chair and later on the UNC Pembroke Board of Trustees.
The early AIS department, under Dr. Dial’s leadership, developed an initial program of six courses, and for several years the program stood as the only curriculum in American Indian studies in the southeast.
Born in the Prospect community, Dial was a member of the Lumbee Tribe and a graduate of Pembroke State College, where he obtained a degree in social studies. He later enlisted in the U.S. Army, completing a tour of duty during World War II in Europe. Upon his return after the war, he enrolled at Boston University where he earned a master’s degree in social studies. Returning home to Robeson County, Dial joined the UNCP faculty in 1958.
In the early 1970s, Dial was a leader in the effort to save Old Main from being demolished and championed efforts to rename the institution to UNC Pembroke. After his retirement, Dr. Dial was awarded an honorary doctorate by UNCP in 1988. Two years later, he was elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives where he once again served his community.
Service and scholarship were the hallmark of Dr. Adolph Dial’s life and work. Dr. Mary Ann Jacobs, professor in the American Indian Studies Department, noted Dial’s significant contributions to the university and to the Lumbee Tribe through his extensive research and writing.
“Adolph Dial and David Eliades wrote the book, The Only Land I Know: A history of the Lumbee Indians (1974 and 1996) and it was the only history of the Lumbee for a very long time. He worked throughout his time at UNCP to collect oral histories which are still part of the collection at UNCP and Florida State University. Adolph was a scholar of Lumbee history and culture,” Dr. Jacobs said.
While he enjoyed a long and successful career as a faculty member in the history department, Dial’s most significant scholarly contribution was perhaps becoming nationally known as an expert in the field of American Indian Studies. For his expertise, he was appointed to serve on the American Indian Policy Review Commission and on the Board of Directors for the American Indian Historical Society.
Without question, UNC Pembroke, Robeson County and southeastern North Carolina are better because of his work and commitment. Dr. Dial’s influence can still be felt today from the businesses across the region to the classrooms on campus and halls of the state legislature, making him truly “a man for all seasons” now honored for all time by the university he deeply loved.