Archival voids: Early attendees of NC A&T State

James Stewart, the Archives and Special Collections Librarian at North Carolina A&T State University, has provided a great suggestion for a recurring series on our blog.  As you'll read below, his institution has been seeking out information about some of its earliest attendees -- please respond to the email address listed in the article if you can provide any information or other leads.  And I wonder how many more of us have voids in our collections and would love to gather information from any and all other relevant parties.  Please send your requests to me for future inclusion on the blog.

Contributed by James Stewart

1899 classIn 1899, W. T. C. Cheek, I. S. Cunningham, A. W. Curtis, E. L. Falkener, J. M. Joyner, P. E. Robinson and A. Watson were the very first graduating class of the Agricultural & Mechanical College for the Colored Race, now North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. They were a part of the Agricultural and Mechanical era that coined the phrase “No Steps Backwards” that can be found on a majority of the university’s earliest publications and bulletins. Next year will be the 120th anniversary of this class, and very little was known in our university's history about them.

Austin Wingate Curtis Sr., of West Raleigh, NC (1872 – 1950) is the most famous member of the class. He became the agricultural director at West Virginia State College and was an active alumnus for 50 years. The Curtis Hall dormitory on the campus was named in his honor. His son A. W. Curtis Jr., (1911 – 2003) became George W. Carver's laboratory assistant and a successful Detroit businessman.

The other six men required extra investigative work to figure out their full names and more details about their lives.

William Thomas Cain Cheek of Warrenton, N.C. (c. 1875 - ????) was an instructor in the early 1910s at what is now Winston-Salem State University. He also taught carpentry and physics at vocational schools and colleges in West Virginia. In the 1920s and 1930s, he worked as an architect and builder in Washington D.C. He is known to have lived in the D.C. area in the late 1940s.

Dr. Isaac Sommerville Cunningham of Hillsboro, N.C. (1877 – 1932) earned a medical degree from Meharry Medical College in 1908. He practiced medicine in Owensboro, Kentucky, before relocating to Winston-Salem, N.C., around 1920. He worked as a physician and pharmacist in the Camel City until his death in 1932, at the age of 55. Descendants of Dr. Cunningham may still be living in the Winston-Salem area.

Dr. Peter Edward Robinson of Raleigh, N.C., was an assistant professor of agriculture and chemistry at A&T beginning in 1902. He attended the Northwestern University Dental School of Chicago, graduating with the highest honors in 1911. He had a dental practice in Durham, NC, for a brief time before he died in 1912.

Adam Watson of Warren County, N.C. was noted at the 1899 commencement for being an exceptional mechanic. He became the Head of the Mechanics Department and Professor of Mechanics and Agriculture at A&T. He is listed as deceased in the college bulletin as early as 1909.

Very little is known about E. L. Falkener, who was a school principal in Warrenton, N.C., and J. M. Joyner, a native of Tarboro, N.C., who became a postal worker in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The F. D. Bluford Library Archives hopes to offer complete biographies of each member of this class along with the first three female graduates (classes of 1901, 1902) by May 2019. Please contact the F. D. Bluford Library Archives at if you have any information, or if you would like to know more about other topics in N.C. A&T history.


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