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N.C. A&T Celebrates 130 Years of Education, Research and Service

By Todd Simmons / 03/09/2021 Alumni

In celebration of the first 13 decades of North Carolina A&T, a website sharing many of the stories, both well known and some that had been lost to time, is being launched today: 130 Years of A&T. Teachers, students, historians, alumni and anyone with an interest in the earliest days of the state’s first public college created for Black people will find much there to enjoy: https://www.ncat.edu/about/130th/.

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (March 9, 2021) – One hundred thirty years ago today, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation establishing the state’s first public college for Black students: The Agricultural and Mechanical College for the Colored Race.

We know it today as North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, the nation’s largest and top-rated historically Black university, an institution that has produced more than 60,000 graduates over the past 13 decades and risen to national prominence on the strength of its academic leadership in STEM disciplines.

One of 17 campuses of the University of North Carolina System, it is also a research university, the third-most productive such public institution in the state. A 2020 study confirmed it has an economic impact across the state of nearly $1.5 billion, accounting for thousands of jobs and producing more than 2,000 graduates each year who not only propel North Carolina businesses, but work in professions from Silicon Valley to Wall Street.

Quite a journey for an institution that began in an annex of Shaw University in 1891 with just 37 students.

The college would not remain there for long. The following year, citizens of Greensboro raised $11,000 and donated 14 acres to lure the fledgling school to the Gate City. Seven years later, the first class of seven graduates – the Superior Seven, as they are known in A&T history – graduated in the final year of the 19th century.

A&T persisted and thrived despite the cultural and legal horrors of the time. Its students, faculty, staff and subsequent alumni demonstrated from the university’s earliest days their ability to compete with anyone and succeed. One young undergrad obtained a patent in 1903 for a machine that automated the process of biscuit cutting, paving the way for mass production of a food staple that defines North Carolina to this day. One of the first graduates in the Class of 1899 created the first working steam engine by a Black person in state history.

The A&T of those days was vividly documented in an exhibition created by famed educator and historian W.E.B DuBois, who commissioned a series of photographs of life at the young college in 1899, 23 of which he displayed the following year at the World’s Fair in Paris as part of his Exhibit of American Negroes. Six of those photos along with an image of the exhibition itself are available at https://www.ncat.edu/about/130th/.

As the first institution created in North Carolina under the second Morrill Act, a federal law that required Southern states still discriminating against Black residents in college admissions, to create separate institutions for them. Though referred to as “land grant” institutions, neither A&T nor its peers were given federal grants of land, as were the land grant universities created under the first Morrill Act in the 1960s. That would be one of many governing decisions that disadvantaged the 1890 campuses in subsequent generations – in funding, recognition, adherence to the Jim Crow practices of the 19th and 20th centuries and more.

A&T let none of that hold it back. By 1939, it was offering its first master’s program. In 1967, it was declared a “regional university” and incorporated into the UNC system. In 1996, it launched its first doctoral program and soon emerged in the Carnegie Foundation rankings as a university with “high research activity,” Carnegie’s second-highest ranking for national universities.

Today, it is an extraordinarily diverse institution of 12,753 students taught on a 188-acre campus, a 500-acre university farm and in online instruction across the country and beyond. It is recognized among America’s top 50 national universities for social mobility, and among its top 70 for both best undergraduate teaching and university innovation by U.S. News and World Report.

The magazine also recognized A&T as America’s top public HBCU (a position it shares this year with Florida A&M) for the third consecutive year, while Money magazine ranks A&T the best HBCU in the nation, period. It also recognizes A&T’s graduates as the second-best compensated in their early careers, with an average salary of $54,600, trailing N.C. State alumni only slightly.

In coming years, the university plans to expand its enrollment to 14,000, with significant growth forecast at the graduate program level. This fall, it will open the Engineering Research and Innovation Complex, a $90 million education and research facility, and begin work on the Global Village, an ambitious development project on the historic west side of campus featuring a new residence hall, retail and dining options and other attractive additions to campus.

It’s been an incredible first 130 years. Here’s to 130 more!