North Carolina Education - Cumberland County

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Cumberland County


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 established 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.

The education center was chartered by the North Carolina legislature as 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. Mr. Chestnutt served the institution for three years before resigning and moving to Cleveland, Ohio. He would later pass the Ohio bar to 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 Mr. 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. Mr. 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 Mr. Smith’s absence. After serving in Liberia for two years, Mr. 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.

Mr. 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 Mr. Smith’s tenure, he saw the school move to its permanent location on Murchison Road in 1907. The high school curriculum was discontinued by the state in 1929 and Mr. Smith’s title change to president. He retired on June 30, 1933 and was named president emeritus.

The North Carolina 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.

The above write-up (with edits) was provided by the North Carolina Highway Marker program. Click Here to read and to view their sources.


In September of 1955, a steering committee, appointed by the mayor of Fayetteville, took the initiative to establish a college in that city. At the time the Presbyterian Synod of North Carolina had just announced plans to locate what became St. Andrews College in nearby Laurinburg. As a consequence, the Methodist Church accepted the Fayetteville citizens’ offer of a 600-acre tract and $2 million to establish a school. The school received its charter from the state on November 1, 1956. Fayetteville attorney and future governor Terry Sanford was elected the first chairman of the Board of Trustees. The following year L. Stacy Weaver was chosen as the first president. The first class of eighty-eight (88) students was admitted on September 16, 1960.

The campus includes a grouping of contemporary buildings; the architectural plan, created by Stevens and Wilkinson of Atlanta, earned a national citation for creativity and unity of design. After a successful start, declining enrollment dipped the size of the student body to 684 in 1975. In 1978, the school began offering two-year associate degrees in addition to four-year degrees. In 1993, the trustees recommended that the college borrow funds to build additional residence halls over the next five years to accommodate 300 new resident students. The trustees further recommended that the college undertake a major capital campaign of at least ten million dollars for increasing the endowment and constructing a library addition, a new academic building, and a science building. In 2001, the school had a record enrollment of 2,143, and inaugurated the first graduate program, a Master of Medical Science (Physician Assistant Studies) program. In 2006, the trustees voted to change the name of the school from Methodist College to Methodist University.

The above write-up (with edits) was provide by the North Carolina Highway Marker program. Click Here to read and to view their sources.


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