Born in Raleigh in 1875 and reared in Durham, James E. Shepard graduated from Shaw University with a degree in pharmacy, and continued his education in theology and related studies. From 1905 to 1909, he traveled widely as field superintendent for the International Sunday School Association. In 1909, he incorporated the National Religious Training School, the institution that has grown to become NCCU, and the first 130 students arrived the next year. Dr. Shepard also played a central role in establishing some of Durham’s major African-American financial institutions. He served as president of the college until his death in 1947.
Alfonso “Toby” Elder was born in Washington County, Georgia, in 1898 and came to the Durham State Normal School (the institution’s name at the time) in 1923 as a professor of education. Promoted to dean soon afterward, he remained here until 1943, when he became director of the graduate school of education at Atlanta University, his alma mater. He returned in 1947, to a school then called North Carolina College at Durham, as chairman of the department of graduate education. Shortly after Dr. Shepard’s death, the governing board chose Dr. Elder as president, and he was inaugurated in January 1948. During his tenure, he oversaw a significant growth in enrollment, faculty and course offerings.
Born in Arkansas in 1919, Samuel P. Massie graduated from high school at age 13. At 18, he graduated summa cum laude with a chemistry degree from the Agricultural, Mechanical & Normal College of Arkansas (now University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff), then earned a doctorate in organic chemistry from Iowa State University. He taught at Langston, Fisk and Howard Universities and performed research at the National Science Foundation before coming to North Carolina College in 1963. After leading the school for three years, he left to become the first African-American professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he worked until his retirement in 1994.
Born in New Jersey in 1917, Albert Nathaniel Whiting earned a bachelor’s degree at Amherst College, a master’s from Fisk University and, in 1952, a Ph.D. in sociology and social psychology from American University. When Dr. Massie resigned, North Carolina College’s Board of Trustees began a search for a new president, and found him in Maryland, at Morgan State University, where Dr. Whiting was dean of the faculty. Dr. Whiting arrived the next year and served until 1983, overseeing the college’s emergence as North Carolina Central University and its integration into the statewide UNC System.
Nationally renowned as an Olympic track coach, LeRoy T. Walker was a fixture at NCCU for 41 years as a coach, teacher and administrator. Born in Atlanta in 1918, he excelled as an athlete and student at Benedict College in South Carolina. He earned a master’s degree at Columbia University and a doctorate at New York University. He began coaching at North Carolina College in 1945. During his tenure, he coached 111 All-Americans. He coached athletes at every Olympic Games from 1956 to 1976, and was head coach of the U.S. track and field team at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. In 1983, he was named interim chancellor of NCCU. When he stepped down three years later, the UNC Board of Governors conferred on him the titles of permanent chancellor and chancellor emeritus.
Born in Memphis, Tenn., in 1940, Tyronza R. Richmond received his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Fisk University, a master’s from American University and, in 1969, a doctorate in operations research from Purdue University. Before coming to NCCU, he was an associate dean and professor in the business school at Howard University. He came to NCCU as dean of the School of Business in 1977 and was named chancellor in 1986. During his administration, NCCU landed its first million-dollar gift and established its first endowed professorship. He founded the University College to offer a degree path for working adults who needed to take their courses in the evening.
The first alumnus to serve as NCCU’s chief executive, Julius L. Chambers was named chancellor in 1993 after a distinguished career as a civil rights attorney. A native of Mount Gilead, N.C., he graduated from North Carolina College in 1958 summa cum laude with a degree in history. He then earned a master’s degree in history at the University of Michigan and a law degree from the UNC School of Law, graduating first in his class. Chambers went on to establish North Carolina’s first integrated law firm in Charlotte, and the firm became a leading national advocate for civil rights, voting rights and workers rights. From 1984 to 1993, he served as director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. During his eight years as NCCU chancellor, the university grew in size and stature, and made a significant turn toward modern-day disciplines such as biotechnology and homeland security.
Born in Florida in 1953, James H. Ammons received his bachelor’s degree from Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University (FAMU) in political science in 1974. He earned a master’s in public administration and a doctorate in government from Florida State University. Returning to FAMU in 1984 to teach, Ammons rose to the position of provost before his appointment as NCCU’s chancellor. During his tenure at NCCU, enrollment rose sharply, reaching 8,219 in 2005. Accompanying the enrollment growth was a physical expansion of the campus. The Mary M. Townes Science Building and the Benjamin S. Ruffin Residence Hall were built, and substantial renovations performed on many other buildings. Dr. Ammons left NCCU in 2007 to return to his alma mater, FAMU, as president.
Charlie Nelms, born in Crawfordsville, Ark., in 1946, graduated from the Agricultural, Mechanical & Normal College of Arkansas (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff), where he majored in agronomy and chemistry. He earned a master’s degree in higher education and student affairs and a doctorate in higher education administration from Indiana University. He served as chancellor of Indiana University East from 1987 to 1994 and chancellor of University of Michigan at Flint from 1994 to 2001, during which he resolved a significant campus budget deficit and reversed a four-year enrollment decline. He then returned to the Indiana University system as vice president for Institutional Development and Student Affairs. Since taking the helm at NCCU, Nelms has placed a heavy emphasis on student success and the measures to achieve it. To improve retention and graduation rates, he reorganized the University College to provide intensive academic support and skills training for underprepared freshmen and sophomores. Two years into his chancellorship, U.S. News & World Report ranked NCCU as the top public historically black university in the nation. During the 2009-10 academic year, NCCU observed its centennial. The physical appearance of the campus has been transformed by redesigned green spaces and a dramatic overhaul of the Fayetteville Street corridor. A new nursing building and residence hall are under construction; a much-needed parking deck opened in August 2010.