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Fayetteville State University, now part of the University of North Carolina system, was the first normal school for African Americans in North Carolina. The university’s founding dates to 1867, when seven black citizens-- David A. Bryant, Nelson Carter, Andrew J. Chestnutt, George Grainger, Matthew Leary, Thomas Lomax and Robert Simmons—paid $140 for a lot on Fayetteville’s Gillespie Street and converted themselves into a self-perpetuating board of trustees to maintain the property as a permanent site for the education of black children. General O. O. Howard, an early supporter of black education, erected a building on the site, and the school was named the Howard School in his honor.
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The education center was chartered by the legislature at the State Colored Normal School in 1877. In 1880 Charles W. Chestnutt, in time a major American author, was appointed principal of the school after the death of principal Robert Harris. Chestnutt served the institution for three years before resigning and moving to Cleveland, Ohio. He would later pass the Ohio bar begin practicing law and write collections of short stories such as “The Conjure Woman” and novels including The Wife of Frederick Douglass.
Ezekiel Ezra Smith was appointed as Chestnutt’s replacement in 1883. E. E. Smith had a long and distinguished career at the school, not retiring until 1933. In his time serving as principal (and eventually president) at the institution, he served in a host of other positions. Smith was appointed Minister Resident and Consul General of the U. S. to Liberia by President Grover Cleveland in 1888. George H. Williams assumed the duties of principal in Smith’s absence. After serving in Liberia for two years, Smith returned to North Carolina to organize the state’s first newspaper for African-Americans, The Carolina Enterprise, in Goldsboro. He returned to his position in Fayetteville in 1895.
Smith temporarily left the school again in 1898 when he served in the Regimental Adjutant of the Third North Carolina Volunteer Infantry during the Spanish-American War. During Smith’s tenure, he saw the school the school move to its permanent location on Murchison Road in 1907. The high school curriculum was discontinued by the state in 1929 and Smith’s title change to president. Smith retired on June 30, 1933 and was named president emeritus.
The legislature voted to change the name of the State Normal School to the Fayetteville State Teachers’ College in 1939. With the name change came transformation into a four-year college and authority to train teachers to become principals. Governor Clyde R. Hoey delivered the commencement in 1939 and watched as the first bachelors’ degrees were awarded. Enrollment soon reached 700 (before World War II depleted those numbers), placing it among the largest African American institutions in the state.
The charter was revised in 1959 to include programs leading to degrees outside of teaching fields. The name changed again to Fayetteville State College in 1963. It was in 1969 that the school was designated as a regional university by the legislature and that it assumed the title of University. Charles A. Lyons became the first chancellor when the university was made a constituent of the UNC system by legislative act in 1972. The school became a Level I institution offering a variety of baccalaureate and master’s degree programs. A continuing education program serves the general public; Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base are served through extension programs.
William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)
Fayetteville State University website: http://www.uncfsu.edu/about.htm
Fayetteville State Teachers College Catalog, 1948-1949
Fayetteville State University