Moore statue, as his legacy, passes test of time


By Glen Bowman

Sunday, August 26, 2018

In light of the news that came from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill on Monday night — that a group of people knocked down the controversial Confederate statue “Silent Sam”— one might be asking the question, “Could it happen here, at Elizabeth City State University?”

This is an easy question. No way. If the only statue on campus ever comes down, it will be by some act of God, not by human hands.

That statue is of the most important educator in the history of northeastern North Carolina — Peter W. Moore. His life and career exemplify character, fortitude and sacrifice, all for the greater good of this community.

Born a slave, Moore’s father was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan when Moore was just a boy. Growing up impoverished, Moore dreamed about becoming a teacher. He worked his way through Shaw University by taking a series of demanding jobs.

In 1891 he moved to the area after being appointed as principal at the newly established Elizabeth City State Colored Normal School. Moore took his job seriously. The ever-diligent Principal Moore visited student homes over the summer, traveled out of state to solicit donations, taught up to six classes daily during the academic year, supervised the practice school, did his own typing, and sometimes paid out of his own pocket for student smallpox inoculations.

When he went home after a long workday, his work for the school continued. The campus did not have a dormitory for male students for the first three decades of the school’s existence, so Moore and his wife Symera usually boarded several young men in their home.

A committed Christian and member of Olive Branch Missionary Baptist Church, Moore truly lived what he believed. He mentored students, demanding that they grow up to become men and women of character. It is no wonder that Elizabeth City’s high school for African-Americans was named after him while he was still alive to enjoy that recognition. (The name still lives on at an elementary school.) After all, Moore shaped young lives for the better.

If not for him, what we know now as Elizabeth City State University, itself a significant economic engine to the region, would have long ago closed. Moore sometimes traveled to Raleigh to meet with decision-makers to save the school, and did so at a time when it took far longer than the three hours or so it takes now. Moore eventually stepped down after serving 37 years as the institution’s chief executive. He passed away in 1934, having truly lived a life serving others.

In the end, the fewer statues are erected, the better. (Enough football coach statues, already.) But if we are to have one, one we can see next to Griffin Hall while passing the campus on Weeksville Road, it might as well honor someone whose values will certainly stand the test of time, whose life of service can inspire the entire community.

Glen Bowman is a professor of history at Elizabeth City State University.