The establishment of what would become North Carolina Central University can accurately be described as the product of the dedication of James E. Shepard, who embarked upon seemingly sisyphean effort, in the early years, to establish the school.
The elder Shepard was already established as an important figure in the Baptist faith, having organized the Baptist State Sunday School Convention of North Carolina in 1872, and served as a representative to the American Baptist Publication Society. Despite his degree in Pharmacy, the younger Shepard elected to pursue ministry as well, and began working nationally and internationally in the establishment of Sunday Schools - traveling throughout Europe and Africa in 1907.
Upon his return, James Shepard began work to establish an institution - one that would provide a theological/religious education to the African-American community - dedicated to training more missionaries and Sunday School teachers. He put together the prospectus for a school in 1908, and initially planned to build the campus on 280 acres at Irmo-South, 10 miles from Charleston, SC, on the site of the former South Carolina Industrial Home. He also considered a 20 acre site located near Hillsborough, NC before settling on Durham as the site for the school.
Shepard began to travel to raise funds for his endeavor; after raising $1000, he chartered the school as a private institution on June 28, 1909, giving it the lengthy-but-descriptive name of "The National Religious Training School and Chautauqua for the Colored Race."
The Merchants' Association of Durham, a forerunner of the Chamber of Commerce, was supportive of Shepard's efforts and persuaded Brodie Duke to donate 20 acres off of Fayetteville Street to the fledgling institution; other accounts say that the Merchants' Association and Duke each donated half.
By July of 1909, the curriculum had expanded to include coursework in "agriculture, horticulture, and domestic science," which Jean Anderson postulates were concessions to the various white backers of the school, looking to maintain a blue-collar African-American labor pool. Perhaps - although I'm not sure that people so-motivated would back a college for African-Americans in the first place, as any advanced education hardly helped keep African-Americans in the most menial of positions.
The institution was actually three schools in one, offering programs on grammar school, high school and college levels. So many of the student's possessed only an elementary foundation that a two-year grammar school had to be set up; it was not discontinued until 1918. The Academy Department was a four-year college preparatory program of scientific, classical and technical courses on a par with high schools of the North, intended to continue where southern high school for African-Americans left off. The College of Arts and Sciences offered four-year programs in classics and sciences and two-year programs in commerce, music, teaching training, domestic arts, and ministerial training.
The school opened for business on July 5, 1910.
The original campus consisted of mostly Greek Revival frame structures arrayed around a 'bowl' in the center of the campus, including an administration building, auditorium, dining hall, girls' dormitory, and boys' dormitory.
"Campus Scene" 1922; looking east from the front of the campus. The adminstration building is to the left; the Boys' Dormitory is partly visible to the right. The original President's house is partly visible beyond the trees.
(Courtesy Duke Rare Book and Manuscript Collection)
Shepard struggled to raise funds to support the school. Repeatedly applying to the General Education Board, he faced rejection, as the Board saw his endeavor as a "largely one-man enterprise" and criticized the effort as superfluous, saying "it is difficult to see what place this institution could fill that other institutions do not." Leslie Brown postulates that the GEB's rejection of Shepard's application was due to the intellectual ambition of his program - i.e., the effort to move beyond the manual training model preferred by most whites - contrasting the "Hampton-Tuskeegee Model" of manual training with the preparation of the "Talented Tenth for leadership" as offered by schools such as Fisk and Howard.
Shepard had to devote most of his energy to raising money, travelling incessantly throughout the east on fund-raising campaigns that yielded barely enough to meet operating expenses In 1912, the school issued $70,000 worth of bonds, using its property as collateral. The Board of Advisors assisted Shepard, and Benjamin N. Duke both provided substantial aid and solicited funds from business associates and friends in New York, arrong them Mrs. Russell Sage. Nevertheless, without a substantial endowment the school faced repeated financial crises. In 1913, Shepard obtained a mortgage on the school for $25,000 from JS Manning in order to facilitate retirement of the bonds.
With the economic strain of World War I, the situation became so desperate in September, 1915, that Manning was forced to foreclose on the mortgage. He sold all of the school property at a courthouse sale to the Golden Belt Realty Co. for $25,100. A few months later, the school resumed operation after Mrs. Russell Sage donated enough money to repurchase the property.. A new Board of Trustees appointed to reorganize the school discontinued the chautauqua features and shifted the emphasis from ministerial to teacher training. Free from debt for the first time, the institution reopened as the National Training School. As the war continued, however, additional gifts were not forthcoming, and Shepard's crisis-ridden struggle resumed as the school increased enrollment and overreached its financial capacity year after year.
Finally, in 1923, a greater measure of financial stability was acheived when the North Carolina General Assembly appropriated funds for the purchase and operations of the school, which became North Carolina's fifth state normal school for African Americans upon the state's assumption of the school's accumulated debt of $49,000.
A new Board of Trustees set up another administration, hired additional faculty, and appointed Dr. Shepard as principal of the Durham State Normal School. It also revised the curriculum, with the intention of cancelling the high school program as soon as the needs of previously enrolled students could be met.
A renovation conducted during the summer of 1923 replaced the plumbing and provided fresh paint, but there was not enough money for a building program. No structures had been added to the campus since the fall of 1910, and with enrollment at almost 200 in the fall of 1923, the physical plant was quite lnadequate.
A fund-raising drive was undertaken by the community in 1923 to build a new President's House for Dr. Shepard. A Prairie Style structure was completed across Fayetteville Street from the campus.
DR. JAMES SHEPARD HOUSE - 1902 FAYETTEVILLE ST.
Dr. James Shepard, founder of what is now North Carolina Central University, moved to the house at 1902 Fayetteville St. in 1925. The house is Prairie Style architecture - common in the midwest, but not a common architectural form in Durham. Shepard lived in the house, and served as president of the university, until his death in 1947.
Dr. James Shepard, founder of what is now North Carolina Central University, moved to the house at 1902 Fayetteville St. in 1925. Shepard, son of Augustus Shepard, well-respected minister of White Rock Baptist Church and brother of Dr. Charles Shepard, first lived in a house at 508 Fayetteville St.
After the National Religious Training School and Chautauqua was built, he moved into a small frame house on the campus. A fundraising drive by J.B. Mason, president of the Citizens Bank garnered enough funds to construct a new President's House on the corner of Brant St. and Fayetteville St. by 1923.
The house is and was Prairie Style architecture - common in the midwest, but not a common architectural form in Durham. Shepard lived in the house, and served as president of the university, until his death in 1947.
The house ceased to be used by the university's presidents (later "chancellors") after a new house for the chancellor was built in 1974. By 1980, it was in use as the admissions office for the university.
1902 Fayetteville, late 1970s
(1960s, courtesy of University Archives - James E. Shepard Memorial Library)
By the early 2000s, when I first went in the house, the university had abandoned the house, which was in very poor shape.
A concerted effort by Carolyn Green Boone, great-granddaughter of Dr. Shepard, resulted in NCCU restoring the house rather than demolishing it; the university received 5,000 from private donations and a grant from the National Park Service to fund the restoration. It is now fully restored, and serves as an exhibit to Dr. Shepard and a meeting space.
1902 Fayetteville St., 11.07.08
A general movement to establish a liberal arts college for African-Americans began to gain momentum in the state, and Dr. Shepard began to lobby to have the Durham State Normal School become that college. Proximity to Trinity College, UNC, and Raleigh (as the state capitol,) as well as the strong standing of Durham's African-American community in the state were the foundations of the lobbying effort.
During deliberations by the General Assembly, two fires destroyed much of the campus infrastructure on January 28-29, 1925, including the administration building, the dining hall, and "a dormitory" (although no dormitory appears to have gone missing between 1913 and 1937.) Barracks-style buildings were erected to serve the needs of the students. In February, the state selected the Durham State Normal School as the first state-supported four-year liberal arts college for African-Americans. It was renamed the "North Carolina College for Negroes" with a focus on liberal arts education and preparation of teachers and principals for secondary schools. Dr. Shepard was again chosen as chief administrator.
The inclusion into the UNC system provided the funds to significantly upgrade the facilities on campus, authorized by the General Assembly in 1927. Per NCCU's official history, the support of Governor Angus McClean was an important factor in the appropriation, and the financial support of Benjamin Duke and "contributions of the citizens of Durham" allowed the facilities expansion to move forward.
Initially, this was done while retaining some of the original structures on campus; notably the Boys' Dormitory, the Auditorium, and the original Girls' Dormitory were retained, while new masonry structures designed by architects Atwood and Nash, replaced the Administration Building and Dining Hall, and provided a new Gymnasium and Girls' Dormitory.
Campus Map - 1937, showing the remaining older structures towards the southwest corner, and a new cluster of structures arrayed around the new circular drive off of Fayetteville Street.
Boys' Dormitory, 1930s.
The physical campus expanded again in the late 1930s with the addition of the BN Duke auditorium - named after the College's largest private benefactor to that date and the Science Building - which was erected at the location of the original Boys' Dormitory. The Science Building and a new library were designed by Public Works Administration architects, and built in a similar style to the Atwood and Nash Buildings.
The College was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools as an “A” class institution in
1937 and was admitted to membership in that association in 1957.
Notably, the Law School was opened in 1940, admitting 4 students in its original class, and the first female students in 1944. (UNC would not admit African-American students to its law or medical schools until 1951.)
In 1947, the NC state legislature changed the name of the school to "The North Carolina College at Durham." In October of that year, Shepard, who had been the longtime president of the college, died.
Between 1937 and the mid-1940s the campus also added new Girls' and Boys' dormitories, an auto repair education building, and a Library. The campus website notes these structures as added in 1937; however, they do not appear on the 1937 Sanborn map.
Bird's Eye aerial, 1940s, looking northeast, showing the growth of the campus over the late 1930s and early 1940s:
Yellow: BN Duke auditorium (late 1930s)
Red: Administration Building (1929)
Dark Blue: Girls' Dormitory (1930)
Purple: Dining Hall (1930)
Pink: Home Economics Building
Royal Blue: Girls' Dormitory (~late 1930s)
Orange: Science Building (1937)
Light Green: Original Auditorium (1910)
Dark Green: Original Girls' Dormitory (1910)
Aqua: Boys Dormitory (late 1930s)
Light Blue: Gymnasium with single story swimming pool (1940) to its right.
The campus expanded greatly again in 1949-1951, with the addition of a new Library, a new classroom building, a Faculty House, a Music and Fine Arts Building, an Infirmary, a new gymnasium, and the Chidley Residence Hall at the eastern edge of campus.
From "Negro Durham Marches On" - 1949:
1950 Sanborn Map of the college, showing the ongoing physical expansion.
Bird's Eye aerial, looking east, 1950s.
(Courtesy Durham County Library / North Carolina Collection)
Red: New Library
Yellow: New Classroom Building
Purple: Faculty House
Blue: Music and Fine Arts
Light Blue: Infirmary
Pink: New Gymnasium
Green: Chidley Residence Hall
The last of the original buildings - the auditorium - is still standing in this picture. In 1956 it was torn down for the Biology building.
Postcard aerial, mid 1950s. Note the construction of McDougald Terrace in the background, with extension of Lawson Street towards Durham Tech underway.
Chidley Residence Hall.
In 1969, the College was renamed North Carolina Central University, and in 1972, became "a constituent institution of the University of North Carolina system. On July 1, 1972, the state’s four-year colleges and universities were joined to become The Consolidated University of North Carolina, with 16 individual campuses, headed by a single president and governed by the University of North Carolina Board of Governors."
The university has continued to expand over the second half of the 20th century - moving first beyond its north south boundaries of East Lawson Street and George Street, continuing to expand eastward towards Alston, and more recently, expanding westward across Fayetteville into the College View neighborhood.
Aerial view, 02.01.89
(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper)
In 2000, the university converted the former Fire Station #4 on Fayetteville St. into a new home for the campus police department.
FIRE STATION #4 - FAYETTEVILLE ST.
/ Modified in
/ Modified in
A new Fire Station #4 was built in 1958, and the station on McMannen St. was closed. This station was built contemporaneously with Fire Station #5 on Chapel Hill Road, and originally the two stations were nearly identical.
Fire Station #4 under construction, 06.21.57
Fire station #4 near completion, 1957
(Courtesy Durham Fire Department)
The station was staffed by an entirely African-American crew - the first African-American firefighters in Durham since the volunteer Excelsior Fire Company of the 1900s.
In 1999, this station closed, and the fire company moved to Riddle Road. The building was taken over by North Carolina Central University, which remodeled the building to house their campus police.
Find this spot on a Google Map.
1929 Administration Building (Hoey Building)
Late 1930s Library Building, 05.24.11
Late 1930s BN Duke Auditorium, 05.24.11
1937 Science Building, 05.24.11
In the mid-to-late 2000s, North Carolina Central undertook a large-scale campus expansion, crossing Fayetteville Street for the first time to any major extent, and expanding or constructing multiple buildings to the north and east. Several residential blocks of the College View neighborhood, as well as the former Hillside High School, were demolished to support the expansion.
An aerial view showing the extent of the campus as of ~2010, and the new buildings west of Fayetteville, which runs left-to-right through the center of the picture.
In 2010, NCCU moved the former Holy Cross Catholic Church from South Alston Avenue to a new home on Fayetteville Street, adjacent to the former Dr. Shepard home, where it has been renovated.