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Former U.S. Ambassador, Chancellors Receive Medallion

Former U.S. Ambassador Mattie Sharpless
Former U.S. Olympics Committee President LeRoy Walker
Legendary civil rights lawyer, Julius L. Chambers
Dr. Ira Wiggins and Branford Marsalis

Six luminaries in the business, political and academic worlds received the Shepard Medallion at a black-tie gala commemorating North Carolina Central University’s 100th anniversary.

Charlie Nelms, chancellor of the 100-year-old university, conferred the bronze medallion on the following people during the university’s Centennial Gala: Julius Chambers, an NCCU alumnus, legal champion for civil rights and Chancellor Emeritus; H.M. “Mickey” Michaux Jr., an NCCU alumnus whose long career as a member of the state House of Representatives has focused on the fight for higher education, particularly for minority students; Mattie Sharpless, an NCCU alumna, former U.S. ambassador and longtime foreign agricultural envoy; LeRoy Walker, chancellor emeritus and past NCCU and Olympic track coach, and the first black president of the U.S. Olympic Committee; Peggy Ward, an alumna, former NCCU trustee and award-winning agent for a national life insurance company, and NCCU Chancellor emeritus Albert N. Whiting. A last-minute injury prevented Whiting from attending the gala, but accepting his medallion was Dr. Tyrone R. Baines, a close friend and an NCCU vice chancellor during Whiting’s tenure.

Nelms said of NCCU’s heroes of the evening “who helped shape the university, from within and without,… who carried forward the university motto of “Truth and Service” to great effect in the wider world... I feel honored and privileged to award these six deserving individuals the first-ever Shepard Medallions.”

The Centennial Gala was held May 22 in the new Durham Performing Arts Center in downtown Durham. More than 500 people attended the event, which included performances by Dr. Ira Wiggins and the NCCU Jazz Ensemble and legendary jazz performers Branford Marsalis, Joey Calderazzo and Lois DeLoatch.

Originally named the National Religious Training School and Chautauqua for the Colored Race, NCCU opened its doors to students on July 5, 1910, when Durham was a small tobacco town and the need for higher education for African-Americans was great. In less than two decades, it would become the first liberal arts college for African-Americans in the nation to receive taxpayer support.

The institution was founded by Dr. James E. Shepard, for whom the medallion was named. Shepard was a pharmacist trained at nearby Shaw University in Raleigh. He was also a national leader in education, especially for African-Americans, as well as a business and religious leader.

The centennial celebration continues with a symposium in early June titled “Setting the Agenda for Historically Black Colleges and Universities;” and a campus-wide birthday party for the University on July 10, in conjunction with the NCCU Alumni Association’s national convention. The convention, in Durham, is July 7 to July 10.

Chambers was NCCU’s chancellor from 1993 to 2001. A 1958 graduate of the school and a president of the student body, he went on to obtain a law degree and fought key civil rights court cases. His Charlotte law firm, the first integrated firm in the state, is credited with influencing more landmark state and federal legislation in school desegregation, employment and voting rights than any other in the United States.

Michaux received his undergraduate and law degrees from NCCU, in 1952 and 1964, respectively. He became the first African-American U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, and first won a seat in the state House of Representatives in 1972. He is considered the dean of the General Assembly, and in recent years, has guided the annual state budget through the chamber. He has tirelessly campaigned for adequate funding for NCCU and other minority universities.

Sharpless received a bachelor’s in business education in 1965 and a master’s in business administration and economics in 1972 from NCCU. She joined the U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service in 1965 and was its acting administrator for much of 2001. Following that position, Sharpless was named U.S. Ambassador to the Central African Republic, where she served until a coup toppled that nation’s government in 2003. With that posting, however, Sharpless became the first woman agricultural attaché to serve as an ambassador. She retired in 2006.

Walker was chancellor from 1983 to 1986, but he was a familiar figure on the NCCU campus. Walker became head track and field coach at NCCU in 1945. He went on to chair the physical education and recreation departments. His track teams at NCCU were legendary, and many of the members competed in the Olympics across the span of decades. He was president of the U.S. Olympic Committee and in 1987 was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.

Ward is a 1974 alumna of NCCU. She is a longtime agent for New York Life Insurance Co., where she has won numerous awards for her service to the company and to her clients. Ward served on the university’s Board of Trustees from 1993 until 1997, and was chairman of the board from 1995 until 1997. She also served on the board of trustees of UNC-TV, part of the University of North Carolina system, and chair of that board’s Advancement Committee.

Whiting was NCCU’s last president and first chancellor. Named president of North Carolina College in 1967, Whiting was chief executive when the university was made part of the UNC system in 1972 and the name of his position changed to chancellor. Under Whiting, NCCU’s School of Business was created and programs in public administration and criminal justice were launched.

The medallion features a likeness of Shepard’s statue in front of NCCU’s administration building and the date of the school’s opening. On its reverse, the phrase “The Shepard Medallion” is written in raised letters. The recipients’ names were engraved on each.

Published: Wednesday, May 26, 2010
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