C. Rudolph Knight
There are 105 historically black college and universities (HBCUs) in the United States and these are institutions of higher education that were established before 1964 with the intention of serving the black community. The HBCUs located in North Carolina are Barber-Scotia College, Concord; Bennett College, Greensboro; Elizabeth City State University, Elizabeth City; Johnson C. Smith, Charlotte; Livingstone College, Salisbury; North Carolina A&T State University, Greensboro; North Carolina Central University, Durham; St. Augustine’s University, Raleigh; Shaw University, Raleigh; Winston-Salem State University, Winston-Salem; and Fayetteville State University, Fayetteville.
Fayetteville State University is a historically black, regional university in Fayetteville, North Carolina and is part of the University of North Carolina System and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. The institution that would become Fayetteville State University and be recognized as the second oldest state supported school in North Carolina had humble beginnings as the Howard School, founded in 1867.
A decade later, in 1877, an act of the North Carolina General Assembly provided for the establishment of the first teacher-training institution for African Americans in the state of North Carolina. Recognized for its successful record of educating black youth, the Howard School was selected for this designation and in that year became the State Colored Normal School and the first state-sponsored institution for the education of African-American teachers in the South.
In 1939 the school became Fayetteville State Teachers College, and was authorized to grant the Bachelor of Science degree in Education. The college received both state and regional accreditation in 1947. The name of the school was changed to Fayetteville State College in 1963. In 1969, the institution acquired its present name, Fayetteville State University. By a legislative act in 1972, Fayetteville State University became a constituent institution of the University of North Carolina System..
Over the years, many students from Tarboro and Edgecombe County have attended Fayetteville State University. A group of these students began the Fayetteville State University Alumni Edgecombe County Chapter in 1950 in the home of Miss Helen A. Walston on St. John Street, Tarboro, North Carolina. (At that time Ms. Walston was the principal of Princeville Graded School.) Dr. Frank B. Weaver was elected president along with Mrs. Vivian M. Diggs, vice-president; Miss Helen Walston , secretary; and Mrs. Ruth Price, treasurer. Twenty-nine graduates, including William P. Arnold, Jetta Howard Knight, William Weaver, Frank Weaver, Thelma Weaver Dickens, Helen Walston, Ruth Price, Catherine Smith, Nannie Waddell Bryant, Dorothy Bridgers Smoot, Cora Dawes, and Charlie Brown, were among the first charter members.
Dr. Weaver remained president until he moved from Edgecombe County in 1961. Succeeding presidents included Mrs. Vivian Diggs (1961-65, 1967-71), Charlie Brown (1965-67), John Rooks (1971-74), Curtis Perry (1974-78), Willie Smith (1978- 1979), and Elsie Stith Williams (1979-84).
Prior to 1975, the Edgecombe County Chapter made contributions to the National Fayetteville State University James Ward Seabrook Scholarship. (Dr. Seabrook was president emeritus of the university.) On March 18, 1975, the chapter voted to establish an annual scholarship to help deserving Tarboro High School graduating seniors. This annual scholarship award was named to honor Vivian Moone Diggs, a loyal supporter and worker for her alma mater who served for 16 years as the national recording secretary.
Vivian Moone Diggs was born in Red Springs, NC, on July 19, 1914, to Reverend Peter W. Moone and Senora Cannon Moone. Her father was a Presbyterian minster and teacher and her mother was a missionary and teacher. She married William Noah Diggs and the couple had four children, Reginald Sherman, Ross, Dawnn, and Senora. The marriage was short-lived, and she became a single parent.
Mrs. Diggs graduated from W. B. Wicker Rosenwald High School in Sanford, NC, in 1934. She earned a two-year normal school teaching certificate from Fayetteville State and taught in a one-teacher school in Lee County. After a new state requirement was put in place, requiring that all teachers have a four-year degree, she made the decision to return to Fayetteville State Teachers College as a non-traditional student, and she earned a BS degree in Elementary Education.
While at the College she served as matron of a girl’s dormitory and adjusted very well to her surroundings and the younger college students as well as the administration. One of her newly acquired friends was Elizabeth McMillan, the college nurse and the daughter of Dr. Alexander McMillan, a physician practicing in Tarboro, North Carolina.
Upon graduation in 1949, Mrs. Diggs came to Tarboro to teach at the W. A. Pattillo School, and the family lived at 411 E. Pitt Street (the McMillan house). Without a Presbyterian Church to attend, she joined St. Luke’s Colored Episcopal Church and became an ardent and dedicated worker.
During her teaching career, Mrs. Diggs held positions with the Princeville, W. A. Pattillo, Bridgers, and North Tarboro schools. An educator for 32 years, Mrs. Diggs was a “champion of teachers’ rights and responsibilities.” She was very active in both professional associations and community organizations. She died May 31, 1993.
It should be noted here that Fayetteville State University has the only HBCU chapter in the Tarboro area and, currently, Charlotte Strong Privott is president; Lovie Bulluck Rooks, vice-president; Gloria Morning, secretary/financial secretary; and Elsie Stith Bulluck, treasurer. The chapter continues to perpetuate the Bronco’s motto: “Deeds Not Words.”
C. Rudolph Knight is a Tarboro native, a retired community college educator, and a research historian.