Ezekiel Ezra Smith (1852-1933) was born to free black parents in Duplin County. Deed and census records indicate the general location of his birthplace but the precise site is not known. His formal education commenced after the Civil War when the family moved to Wilmington and young Zeke enrolled in a Freedmen’s Bureau school, at the same time working in a turpentine plant making barrel staves. He graduated from Shaw University in Raleigh in 1878. That same year he took charge of a school in Goldsboro as principal. In 1883 E. E. Smith succeeded writer Charles W. Chesnutt as the head of the State Colored Normal School in Fayetteville.
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Founded in 1867 as the Howard School (being named for Gen. O. O. Howard of the Freedman’s Bureau), the institution received state funding beginning in 1877. Smith would remain at the school’s helm over the next fifty years, a tenure interrupted on two occasions. In 1888 Pres. Grover Cleveland appointed him ambassador to Liberia, a post he held until 1890. On his return to North Carolina, he taught for periods in Goldsboro and Asheville before his return to the campus. In 1898 Smith joined the regiment of black troops organized by James H. Young of Raleigh to fight in the Spanish-American War. The following year he returned to the school and remained there until his retirement in the summer of 1933, a few months before his death.
The school changed names to Fayetteville State Teachers College in 1939 and Fayetteville State University in 1969. A monument, administration building, and athletic field on that campus bear the name of E. E. Smith, as does a local public high school. He is buried in Brookside Cemetery in Fayetteville.
N. C. Newbold, Five North Carolina Negro Educators (1939)
History of the American Negro, North Carolina Edition, IX (1921)
C. H. Hamlin, Ninety Bits of North Carolina History (1946)
Fayetteville State University Catalog (1990-1992)
Fayetteville State Teachers College Catalog (1948-1949)
Fayetteville Observer, December 7, 1933
Duplin County Deeds, North Carolina State Archives
U.S. Census, Population Schedule, 1860