Fayetteville State University

Written By Jonathan Martin

In 1867, several years after the Civil War, seven male African Americans gathered in Fayetteville to discuss opening a school for educating the future black race. The men organized into a board of trustees, and they gathered $140 for two lots on Fayetteville’s Gillespie Street. Union General O. O. Howard donated funds to construct the first education facility on the new lots. The school became known as the Howard School, in honor of its benefactor (who is also the namesake of Howard University in Washington, D. C.)

The North Carolina General Assembly passed a charter for a black teacher-training school in 1877. Recognizing the success of the Howard School, the legislature selected the institution and changed its name to the State Colored Normal School. The first state-supported school for African Americans, the Fayetteville institution was presided over by Charles W. Chestnutt from 1880 until 1883. After his retirement, Chestnutt became a successful writer, and one of his major works was The Wife of Frederick Douglass.

The young Dr. E. E. Smith, an alumnus of Shaw University, became the principal of the school in 1883, and served until 1888, and again from 1895 to 1933. During his tenure at the State Colored Normal School, Dr. Smith served as President Grover Clevelend’s Minister of the United States to Liberia and he established North Carolina’s first newspaper for African Americans, The Carolina Enterprise. Yet he remained a vital leader to the Fayetteville institution. Smith donated some 90 acres to the school, and in 1907 the school relocateded to Murchison Road.

In May 1937, the State Colored Normal School became a four-year college, offering an elementary education degree to its students. Two years later, the school became the Fayetteville State Teachers College. The college grew in the 1940s and 1950s, and eventually programs other than teaching were added to curricula. In 1963, due to its addition of undergraduate programs, the school became Fayetteville State College after its physical plant expansion.

More students enrolled in Fayetteville State, and in 1969 it became Fayetteville State University (FSU). Dr. Charles Lyons, Jr., led the school through its university transition, and Lyons was later able to secure FSU’s incorporation into the University of North Carolina System. In the late 1980s, FSU added a school of business and economics, and in 1988 a health and physical education facility was built on campus.

In 2023, FSU had a student body of over 6,487 students. It offered 33 bachelor’s degrees, 18 master’s degrees, and one doctoral degree in educational leadership. The school’s innovative Freshman Year Initiative draws in numerous freshmen as it helps high school students better transition to life in college.