The History of Elizabeth City State University


It all started as a dream of Hugh Cale, an African American North Carolina General Assembly representative.  Calle desired to establish a school for training African Americans to become teachers in N.C. 

Calle took his bill to legislation and shortly after, Bill 383 became a law and the early beginnings of Elizabeth City State University were born. The school was originally named Elizabeth City Colored Normal School and only had 23 students enrolled with 2 teachers to facilitate classes. The first classes began in 1892 and the graduating class of 1896 hailed six graduates. The school was green and growing. 

A former slave, Peter W. Moore, served as president of the school from 1892 to 1928.  Moore was a slave on a plantation near Turkey, N.C.  Moore graduated from Shaw University in 1887.  He lived and based his life off of his motto “ Well trained individuals become better citizens”, a sentiment he took to Elizabeth City Colored Normal School. By 1928, the school had grown to 355 students and 15 faculty members.  The school established athletic teams (1914) and its first yearbook in 1925. The school’s mascot at that time was a pirate.  Dr. Moore retired in 1928 and Dr.  Henry Bias became the school’s second president that same year.

The school underwent a name change in 1939.  Elizabeth City State Teacher’s College awarded 27 students with baccalaureate degrees in elementary education and President Bias died that same year. Following President Bias’ death, the school saw many changes in presidents: Dr. Harold Trigg (1939-1945), Dr. Sidney David Williams (4th president) Dr. Walter  Nathaniel Ridley (5th president). 

In 1962, the graduating classes expanded their degrees beyond education. The prior year they joined the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accrediting group (SACS), becoming an accredited institution. 

In 1963, they took another big leap and became “Elizabeth City State College” Vikings. The school experienced another growth spurt and now had more than 1,000 students enrolled. The world outside of North Carolina was now becoming more familiar with the institution. The school officially became Elizabeth City State University in 1969. They became constituents of the University of North Carolina in 1972. The 1980’s saw more growth with distinguished speakers like as Coretta Scott King visiting the campus and the establishment of a college radio station. 

They received a historical marker for “ State Teachers College” in 1994, gaining entrance into the National Register of Historic Places. Historic they were! In 2001, ECSU was ranked in the top 10 by USA Today for their stellar reputation for the graduation rate of their student-athletes.  

ECSU Men’s Basketball Team became the CIAA 2007 Men’s Basketball Champions. This was the first of many CIAA championships experienced by their various sports divisions. 

They have landed on U.S. News And World Report’s ranking for several milestones including: Top Public School and top HBCU where freshman are most likely to return. ECSU has also been listed as one of the most affordable small colleges in America.  Today, the school has 24 baccalaureate degrees and has awarded more than 20,000 scholars. 

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