Upon the Past

One of the last pictures of Wright was taken with the remaining original faculty members a few weeks before his death.
From left are Sallie Joyner Davis, Mamie Jenkins, Wright, Kate Lewis, Maria Graham and Leon Meadows.

The Day Wright Died


Wright funeral 
Marshals representing the Poe and Lanier literary societies serve as honor guards at President Robert Wright’s funeral.
sense of accomplishment pervaded the campus in the spring of 1934 as East Carolina Teachers College eagerly anticipated celebrating its 25th anniversary. Committees were planning several gala dinners and a lavish stage production retelling the school’s founding and growth.

There was much to celebrate. In 25 years the school had grown from 175 students to more than 1,000. The faculty had grown from a dozen to 90. The two-year teacher training school had blossomed into a fully accredited four-year college with graduate studies. Its president, Robert H. Wright, had achieved national recognition for his progressive methods.

From that emotional high the campus fell into disbelief and despair at 10:30 a.m. on April 23, a Monday, when word came that Wright had suffered a heart attack while working at his desk in the new administration building. The only leader East Carolina had known died two days later, about a month short of his 64th birthday.

The faculty committee planning the anniversary events, led by Mamie Jenkins and Emma Hooper, instead began composing Wright’s eulogy and planning his funeral.

Wright’s funeral was held in the new assembly hall that later would be named for him. In the hours before the service, an honor guard of representatives from student organizations was changed three times an hour so that every group could participate. Among the mourners was junior William Wright ’35, the second oldest of Wright’s four children.

On the day he was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Greenville, Wright seemed to speak from the grave in an op-ed article published under his byline in that day’s Raleigh News & Observer. He had written an essay on the future of teacher training and mailed it the week before. He closed the article saying, “The education of tomorrow must carry the three R’s, plus. It must carry with it character, intelligence, and a realization of our human obligations one to another.”

A statewide tribute to Wright was held on campus in December at which Frank Porter Graham, president of the new Consolidated University of North Carolina, extoled him as a remarkable leader. “Dr. Wright knew more about teacher training than any other educational leader in this part of the United States,” Graham said.

The campus mourned for four years.

A figurative and literal turning of the page came in 1938 when Wright was memorialized in a special 98-page edition of the Teachers College Quarterly. In it, T. Wingate Andrews, a nationally known educator who was a classmate of Wright’s at Chapel Hill, wrote that, “In character and to some extent in appearance he reminded me of Abraham Lincoln. I recall no better characterization of (Wright) than Edwin Markham’s poem in which the poet refers to Lincoln as a lordly cedar going down and leaving a lonesome place against the sky.”

ECU Timeline

100 years ago

Athletic League
Organized sports begins

A group of students interested in sports meets on Nov. 10,1913, and creates the Athletic League. The school has10 tennis courts and two basketball courts but there are no paid coaches and no one is in charge of scheduling the ball fields. The Athletic League takes that responsibility. It sanctions intramural teams for basketball, tennis and hiking. By the 1920s there were so many teams on campus that the Athletic League split into two divisions, the Athenians and the Olympians. The Athletic League dominated campus sports through the early 1940s.
75 years ago

College Band 1938
First band forms

During winter quarter 1938, music professor Dean Tabor rounds up 20 students who can play instruments and forms East Carolina’s first college band. This hardy group begins performing from the stands during football games, and membership soon climbs to 60. When money can’t be found to purchase uniforms, the student body votes overwhelmingly to ask the administration to impose a student activity fee of $1.50 per student per quarter. That levy yields $1,200 to purchase uniforms, which the band proudly wears for the photo above in the 1939 yearbook.

50 years ago

College Band at Redskins Game
Band performs on TV

The ECC Marching Pirates are invited to perform at halftime of the Washington Redskins’ nationally televised game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 13, 1963. Gov. Terry Sanford, President Leo Jenkins and 150 Greenville civic leaders travel to D.C. to watch the game. The event is billed as a tribute to North Carolina, in part because of the matchup between quarterbacks with North Carolina ties—the Eagles’ Sonny Jurgensen and the Redskins’ Norm Snead. Wearing new uniforms purchased by the SGA, the band performs North Carolina-themed songs and gets a loud cheer when it forms a tomahawk, a symbol of the Redskins.

25 years ago

Crow's Nest

The Crow's Nest closes

After 20 years at the northeast corner of 10th and Charles, the Crow’s Nest restaurant—the only place close to campus that sells cold beer and hot food 24 hours a day—closes in July 1988. During the late 1950s and early ’60s it was known as Lum’s. For many years the restaurant was home to the Loyal Order of the Crow, a group of local alumni sports fans, including Phil Dixon ’71, Stephen F. HorneII ’72 and Bill Byrd ’71, who meet there for lunch every Friday. The group starts a newsletter that eventually evolves into the current Boneyard Banter blog.

Photos courtesy University Archives