A new exhibit titled “African American Staff at State Normal, 1892-1919” is now on display in the case in the Elliott Center University connector. This exhibit features photographs of many of the African Americans who worked on the State Normal and Industrial School (now UNCG) campus during its earliest years.
While the student body of the State Normal was limited to white women, nearly all of the support staff (cooks, maids, janitors, handymen, etc.) were African American. There were at least 21 African American support staff employees at State Normal during its opening year (1892-1893). Two years later, that number had doubled to 42. These African American employees were essential to the operations of the campus, ensuring that the lights operated, the buildings and grounds were clean, the students and faculty were fed, and the general operations proceeded smoothly and did not disrupt the school’s educational mission. But sadly many of their stories — and some of their names — have been lost to history.
|Housekeeping Staff, late 1890s|
One person featured in the exhibit is Ezekiel “Zeke” Robinson. Robinson was hired by State Normal’s founding president Charles Duncan McIver soon after the school opened. In addition to managing the African American support staff, Robinson performed numerous tasks that were critical to the function of the school, including ringing the campus bell, waiting table at state dinners, delivering the mail, and serving as porter for three college presidents. Ill health forced Robinson to retire in 1944 after a 52-year career. During his time on campus, he saw the transition from horses to automobiles, from oil lamps to electricity, from fireplaces to central heating, and from wells and pumps to running water. He saw the acreage of campus increase tenfold, and saw the student body grow from 200 to over 2200. On December 1, 1960, Ezekiel Robinson died at a local nursing home at the age of 93. He was the last surviving member of the faculty and staff from the first year of State Normal.
|Ezekiel “Zeke” Robinson|
Please stop by the exhibit to learn more about this important part of UNCG’s history. The exhibit will be available through March 1, 2016.