The University of North Carolina at Pembroke

Written By Jonathan Martin

Hamilton McMillan, a representative of Robeson County, sponsored a bill for a Native American school in his home county in the late 1880s. Lumbee Indians who lived in the region had requested an academic institution for educating Native American teachers. McMillan’s bill passed the North Carolina legislature on March 7, 1887, and the Croatan Normal School was soon constructed in Robeson County.

Beginning humbly, the Croatan Normal School enrolled 15 students in its first year, and classes were taught by one teacher. The school’s first students earned their diplomas in 1905, and by 1909 the school moved to Pembroke. From 1911 to 1913 the Croatan school underwent two name changes, becoming the Indian Normal School of Robeson County (1911) and then the Cherokee Indian Normal School of Robeson County (1913).

Beginning in the early 1930s, the Normal School added college classes to its curricula. The school added its first undergraduate degrees in 1939. Two years later, the General Assembly changed the name of the school again to Pembroke State College for Indians. Other degrees were added and the student body grew when the college was opened to all recognized Native American tribes. Until 1953, the Pembroke State College “was the only state-supported, four-year college for Native Americans in the nation” (Powell, p. 1153).

After the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, Pembroke State College allowed students of all ethnicities to study in 1954. According to its website, Pembroke’s student body grew by over 500 percent in the 1950s. Due to the exponential growth of the college, the General Assembly granted Pembroke university status and the school became known as Pembroke State University in 1969. Several years later, the Pembroke State was added to the University of North Carolina higher education system in 1972.

By the mid-1990s, Pembroke State University became the University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNC-Pembroke). New programs in nursing and graduate degrees of Business Administration, Public Administration, and Service Agency Counseling expanded to Pembroke’s curricula. North Carolina Governor Mike Easley signed a law that acknowledged UNC-Pembroke as “North Carolina’s Historically American Indian University” (History of UNCP).

Today, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s student body has 7,667 students (fall 2021). That includes 5,644  undergraduates and 2,023 graduate studentsPembroke offers over 40 undergraduate degrees and 17 master’s degree programs. The cultural side of the university has developed into a statewide and national attraction. It houses the Museum of the Southeast American Indian and the Givens Performing Arts Center, which has become a regional hub for local gatherings and performing arts. In addition, Pembroke’s Regional Center for Economic, Community and Professional Development offers programs in research, consulting, and technical training.