Write Again … Our success story

Published 1:06 pm Sunday, March 31, 2019


The single greatest success story in eastern Carolina in my lifetime is, beyond question, that of East Carolina University.

This vibrant, ever-evolving institution has been the catalyst for change in diverse and powerful ways.

It is in the vanguard of progress in education, with some 29,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Its outreach and service area reaches far beyond the eastern part of our state.

Just consider, if you will, the impact the medical school has had not only where we live, but across the state and beyond. The benefits this has wrought are almost beyond quantifying.

And now, there is an up and running dental school, with clinics in underserved regions across our state.

The economic effects of the combined undergraduate and graduate, and medical and dental schools, are almost beyond measure. It is hard to even imagine what life would be like today if there had been no ECU.

This education-economic engine of the East began modestly, but with hopefulness, by a handful of visionaries, to whom we all owe tremendous gratitude.

Many, if not most of you, know the story.

And many, if not most of you, believe, or have heard, that our little town turned down the opportunity to be the home of this institution of higher learning.

Not so. Absolutely, positively, not so. Perpetuating this belief may make for an interesting footnote to history, but such an assertion is patently false.

To quote verbatin from “East Carolina University, The Formative Years 1907–1982,” by Mary Jo Jackson Bratton:

“Throughout the fall of 1906, Greenville and Pitt County were not alone in organizing for the ensuing legislative struggle over the eastern normal ( a Normal College). The neighboring town of Washington, county seat of Beaufort, was also committed to the battle. In December, Professor Harvey Howell, superintendent of the Washington schools, and a representative of the Chamber of Commerce, appeared before the joint legislative committee on education in Raleigh to urge ‘the establishment of Normal College for teachers in Eastern North Carolina.’

“In Rocky Mount the Chamber of Commerce prepared to use its influence to gain legislative support for such a school, and citizens went on record as favoring the movement …”

There is, of course, more to the story, but all of it clearly shows that the “fathers” of our fair little town in no way opposed the opportunity to have the school established here.

In 1907, W. K. Jacobsen, local state representative, submitted a bill in the house almost identical to the one submitted to the senate by James L. Fleming of Greenville, both in support of such a school.

“A small army of eastern delegates from Greenville, Elizabeth City, Washington, Rocky Mount, Falkland, Pactolus, Bruce, Winterville, and elsewhere assembled in the committee room (in Raleigh) to demonstrate the strength and unity of the movement in the East.” Many towns wanted to be the home of the new school, but Greenville emerged the winner.

Such coordinated efforts bore fruit, however, and the rest of the story is now history. An initial appropriation of $30,000 for the buildings and an annual $10,000 for maintenance was approved, and just two years later the first class of students enrolled.

From those days — East Carolina Teacher Training School, to East Carolina Teachers College, To East Carolina College, to East Carolina University (1967) — the “single greatest success story in eastern Carolina” evolved.

And continues to evolve.