N.C. Central classmates of ‘63 become Golden Eagles
It’s been 50 years since these students have graduated from N.C. Central University. They attended classes during Durham’s civil rights movement.
They marched. They participated in sit-ins. They went to jail.
On the school’s 66th Founder’s Day convocation on Friday, about 80 alumni were inducted into the NCCU Society of Golden Eagles, surrounded by a family of faculty, administrators and students in the gymnasium.
Chancellor Debra Saunders-White, Miss NCCU Mahalia Frost and UNC Board of Governors member Rodney Hood all spoke of the school’s founding 103 years ago.
1910 was when a dream was created, Frost said. A foundation has been built here and is now more than 30,000 alumni strong, Hood said.
These Golden Eagles were trailblazers during the civil rights movement, at a time when “separate did not mean equal,” Saunders-White said.
“Your sacrifices paved the way for future generations,” she said. “We can only say thank you.”
The guest speaker was the Rev. Lillie I. Sanders, part of the class of ‘63 and an associate minister at Watts Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Raleigh.
She said 54 years ago, she and her classmates walked onto the NCCU campus and were greeted by the bronze statue of the founder, James E. Shepard.
“Give me your tired children … of sharecroppers, sanitation workers, domestic workers, those from the high class, the middle class, the low class and even from the no class,” Sanders said. “Send them to North Carolina Central University and we will give them an education.”
They were entrenched in the era of civil rights, and John F. Kennedy was assassinated only five months after they graduated. They listened to the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr.
“It was a matter, you see, of life and death, and future generations were relying on us,” Sanders said.
Frances Thomas, 70, of the class of 1963, said she remembers marching to a downtown cafeteria and participating in a sit-in as an upperclassman. They all were thrown in jail.
“We haven’t seen each other since ’63, a lot of us,” she said. It’s become hard to place a face with the name.
The Rev. Dr. Fletcher L. Jackson Sr., 72, said he traveled from Baltimore, Md., to be inducted Friday. It’s been at least five years since he visited NCCU, and he said the campus and the academic courses have grown.
He said he also participated in sit-ins and was jailed twice. He remembers “singing and ‘going on’ in jail,” with both Duke and NCCU students. It was known as North Carolina College then.
“It’s an honor to help open the doors for what’s going on here now,” Jackson said.
The university paid homage to Shepard, the pharmacist, preacher and businessman who started NCCU in 1910 as the National Religious Training School and Chautauqua for the Colored Race.
During the induction ceremony, his granddaughter, Carolyn Smith Green, and great-granddaughters sat in the front row.
“It’s a magnanimous event and it’s very meaningful to the family,” said Carolyn Green Boone, the daughter of Smith Green.
“As much as we know about the legacy, it’s still very moving,” said Marjorie Donaldson, one of Shepard’s great-granddaughters. “We’re keeping the family legacy alive.”