Southern Conference on African American Studies, Inc. C. Calvin Smith Book Award “An important contribution to the study of African American presidents in higher education”—Journal of American History "Resurrects from the annals of history James Edward Shepard, one of the most understudied yet important black college administrators and race leaders of the twentieth century. Ellis recounts how Shepard successfully navigated the halls of power within both black and white circles to fund his institution, and in doing so, Ellis challenges the notion that strategies of racial uplift can be neatly delineated as accommodationist or radical."—Crystal R. Sanders, author of A Chance for Change: Head Start and Mississippi’s Black Freedom Struggle "Provides a deep exploration of black higher education and its uneasy relationship with white politicians in the Jim Crow South. Always the pragmatist, Shepard, sometimes wisely and at other times unwisely, implemented strategies to establish and sustain important educational institutions in a major southern state."—Dennis C. Dickerson, author of African American Preachers and Politics: The Careys of Chicago Between Washington and Du Bois describes the life and work of James Edward Shepard, the founder and president of the first state-supported black liberal arts college in the South--what is today known as North Carolina Central University. Arguing that black college presidents of the early twentieth century were not only academic pioneers but also race leaders, Reginald Ellis shows how Shepard played a vital role in the creation of a black professional class during the Jim Crow era.
Rather than focusing on vocational skills, like Booker T. Washington, or emphasizing the liberal arts exclusively, as did W. E. B. Du Bois, Shepard steered a course between these two perspectives by considering the most practical ways to make higher education available to African Americans. At times he accommodated his state’s segregationist regime in order to keep his school open and funded. Yet he never lost sight of his goal of radical racial uplift. Shepard’s story illustrates the gradualist strategy used by many of his peers in academic leadership who successfully navigated the currents of southern white supremacy and northern black radicalism.
Reginald K. Ellis is associate professor of history at Florida A&M University.