North Carolina Central University, a state-supported liberal arts institution, was chartered in 1909 as a private institution and opened to students on July 5, 1910. It was founded by Dr. James E. Shepard. From the beginning, when it was known as the National Religious Training School and Chautauqua for the Colored Race, its purpose has been the development in young men and women of the character and sound academic training requisite for real service to the nation. To this end, the training of all students has been entrusted to the most capable teachers available.
The institution’s early years were characterized by a wealth of enthusiasm and high endeavor, but not of money. Private donations and student fees constituted the total financial support of the school, and the heavy burden of collecting funds rested on the President.
In 1915 the school was sold and reorganized, then becoming the National Training School. During this period, Mrs. Russell Sage of New York was a generous benefactor of the school.
In 1923 the North Carolina legislature appropriated funds for the purchase and maintenance of the school. That was the beginning of its state support, and the institution was renamed the Durham State Normal School. Two years later, the legislature converted the institution into the North Carolina College for Negroes, dedicating it to the offering of liberal arts education and the preparation of teachers and principals of secondary schools. North Carolina College for Negroes became the nation’s first state-supported liberal arts college for African-American students.
At its 1927 session, the legislature authorized money for a physical expansion of the college plant to meet the needs of an enlarged academic program. The interest of Gov. Angus W. McLean and his belief in the institution aided greatly in the promotion of this program. State appropriations were supplemented by a generous gift from Benjamin N. Duke, a member of the Durham tobacco family, and by contributions from citizens of Durham in 1929. In the 1930s, federal grants and state appropriations financed further expansion and improvement of educational facilities.
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. In 1939, the legislature authorized the establishment of graduate work in liberal arts and the professions. The first graduate courses in the Arts and Sciences were offered in that same year; the School of Law began operation in 1940, and the School of Library Science was established in 1941.
In 1947 the General Assembly changed the name of the institution to North Carolina College at Durham.
On October 6, 1947, Dr. Shepard, the founder and president of the college, died. The Board of Trustees appointed an interim committee consisting of Dr. Albert E. Manley, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; Ruth G. Rush, Dean of Women, and Dr. Albert L. Turner, Dean of the School of Law, to direct the affairs of the college until the election of the second president.
On January 20, 1948, Dr. Alfonso Elder was elected president of North Carolina College. At the time, he was serving as head of the Graduate Department of Education and had formerly been Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Elder retired Sept. 1, 1963.
Dr. Samuel P. Massie was elected as the third president on August 9, 1963. Dr. Massie came to the institution from Washington, where he was Associate Program Director for Undergraduate Science Education of the National Science Foundation and Professor and Chairman of the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry at Howard University. He resigned in February 1966 to accept an appointment as a chemistry professor at the U.S. Naval Academy.
The administration of the college was then assumed by a second interim committee, whose members were William Jones, business manager; Dr. Helen G. Edmonds, graduate dean; and Dr. William H. Brown, professor of education. The committee served until July 1, 1967, when Dr. Albert N. Whiting assumed his duties as president. Whiting served as president at first, then assumed the title of chancellor when the institution was brought into the University of North Carolina system in 1972. He retired on June 30, 1983.
Under Whiting’s leadership, North Carolina College at Durham became North Carolina Central University in 1969. Among the significant developments during his 16 years of service was the creation of the NCCU School of Business. Programs in public administration and criminal justice were also launched during those years. On July 1, 1972, all the state’s public four-year colleges and universities were joined to become the Consolidated University of North Carolina. The reconstituted UNC, with 16 individual campuses, was headed by a single president and governed by the University of North Carolina Board of Governors.
Whiting was succeeded by Dr. LeRoy T. Walker in the role of interim chancellor. Walker had served the institution as chairman of the Department of Physical Education and Recreation, head track coach, and vice chancellor for university relations. He had served as the United States’ head track and field coach at the 1976 Olympic games, and was a key administrator in the early years of the U.S. Peace Corps. At their February 1986 meeting, the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, at the request of NCCU’s Board of Trustees, retroactively awarded Walker the title of chancellor, effective as of the beginning of his term in 1983.
Dr. Tyronza R. Richmond, formerly dean of the School of Business, succeeded Walker as chancellor on July 1, 1986. Before his arrival at NCCU, Richmond served as associate dean and professor at the School of Business and Public Administration at Howard University. Richmond’s tenure saw the creation of the School of Education (formerly the Department of Education) and a reorganization of the academic administrative structure. Richmond resigned as chancellor to return to the classroom and was succeeded on Jan. 1, 1992, by Dr. Donna J. Benson, who served as interim chancellor for one year.
Benson was succeeded in January 1993, by Julius L. Chambers, who had been director-counsel (chief executive) of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Chambers, a distinguished civil rights attorney, was the first NCCU alumnus to serve as chief administrator, having received his bachelor’s degree in history from North Carolina College at Durham in 1958. Chambers launched a major capital construction effort including an additional residence facility on the site of the existing Chidley Hall, a biomedical/biotechnology research facility, a new School of Education building as well as substantial renovations to all student residence halls and most classroom facilities. James H. Ammons became chancellor June 1, 2001. Under his leadership, the university experienced significant enrollment growth, making NCCU the fastest-growing of the 16 UNC campuses.
Charlie Nelms, chancellor since 2007, has made a focus on student success his highest priority. With the goal of lifting retention and graduation rates, he reorganized the University College to provide intensive academic support and skills training for underprepared freshmen and sophomores. He presided over NCCU’s centennial celebration during the 2009-10 academic year, during which the appearance of the campus underwent a transformation, most notably the dramatic overhaul of the Fayetteville Street corridor.