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Bowman to give lecture on ‘resilient’ ECSU’s history

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Elizabeth City State University

Saturday, August 31, 2019

A lecture on the history of Elizabeth City State University that traditionally has been part of the freshman seminar will be open to the public next week as part of the campus’s celebration of Chancellor Karrie Dixon’s installation.

Dr. Glen Bowman will give the lecture on ECSU’s 128-year history at the Mickey L. Burnim Fine Arts Center Tuesday at 3:30 p.m.

“The point (of the lecture) is to focus on who we are and how we have survived,” Bowman said. “How we have gone through so much and how we are here 128 years later.”

Bowman chronicled ECSU’s history in the book, “The Continuity of a Historical Legacy of Excellence and Resilience.” He’s also written about the campus’s history in a weekly column that was published in the local newspaper for several years. He’s also taught the university’s history to students in his freshman seminar lectures.

The founding of ECSU in 1891 — then known as the State Normal School — gave young African-American men and women from Elizabeth City and surrounding areas an opportunity to further their education at a time when their career choices were limited because of Jim Crow and racial segregation. Most enrolled at the State Normal School to train as teachers.

ECSU has survived many challenges throughout its history. Bowman points to the Great Depression as a period when ECSU showed resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity. John Henry Bias, the college’s president at the time, helped the school navigate difficult times by using creative thinking.

Bowman says Bias was a business genius. Not only was he successful in his personal finances, he also found creative solutions for the college, finding ways to enroll students despite a lack of funds, for example.

“He realized students were largely from poor farming families,” Bowman said. “He made a deal with their families.”

The university was in need of food to feed students, so farming families would barter food in exchange for education for their children. That food, along with food grown on the school’s own farm — located on what is now the southern portion of the campus — kept students fed and the struggling college going during those difficult times.

Bowman’s lecture also highlights the many changes at ECSU over the years. For example, the university’s mascot name wasn’t always the Vikings; it once was the Pirates.

The name change happened because there were two schools in the Central Intercollegiate Association with the Pirates mascot name — ECSU and Hampton University — and athletic conference officials were looking to end the duplication.

Bowman says then president Walter N. Ridley favored changing the name to the Vikings, while then coach and athletic director Bobby Vaughan favored the name Buccaneers. The decision was ultimately left to students, however, who in the end chose the name Vikings.

Bowman will also discuss ECSU’s aviation science program, and how it became the university’s signature program. Its legacy, he said, goes back to Chancellor Marion Thorpe’s desire to set ECSU apart by establishing unique programs not found elsewhere in the state.

That uniqueness is what Bowman tries to convey in his lecture to ECSU freshmen.

“I try to let them (freshmen) know that they are part of something unique,” he said.

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