Once upon a time in Black Entrepreneur History lived an African American man named James Edward Shepard who founded North Carolina Central University and also became a major investor of the Hayti District in Durham, North Carolina.
Born on the 3rd of November 1875 in Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina to parents Augustus and Harriet Shepard. He was one of many children, and they all lived together on Blount and Smithfield Street. He attended Shaw University and graduated with degree in Pharmacy in 1894.
At the age of about 25 in 1900, he lived in Durham, North Carolina, married to a woman named named Annie Washington whom he’d wed on November 7, 1895 in the same city.They had two children – Marjorie Augusta and Annie Day. He also had a step son, Albert Robinson. They lived on Tay Etterille Street, and he worked as a Pharmacist. The family later moved to Fayetteville Street into a home valued at $20,000 (approximately $500,000 in 2021)- at the time he founded what would become one of the most prosperous African American institutions in the United States of America – run by one of the wealthiest and influential Black men in the state of North Carolina – himself.
The Founding and Fight For North Carolina College
In 1910, Dr. James E Shepard founded the National Religious Training School and Chautauqua for the Colored Race. He’d become not only the founder but the President of the college, with an income of $2000.00.
At the founding of the school, it sat on 50 acres of land, complete with colonial style buildings and dorms, however, the road was rough at the inception of the college. It even once had to be sold and reorganized, being named by Shepard the National Training School at one point.
The reason for it’s financial downturn was due to World War I and a depression which meant decreased enrollment and less finances to keep the school going. Despite the downturn, Dr. James E. Shepard was able to keep the school going turning it over to the state, thus it being renamed Durham State Normal College.
Through all this and Dr. James E. Shepard seeing and fighting for the need of Arts and Teacher training for African Americans at the college, it was through one legislative vote that the college was turned into the North Carolina College which gave African Americans their first Liberal Arts college in the USA.
This was a mighty battle and win for Dr. James E. Shepard who fought long and hard for a place for Black men and women to receive a great education despite segregation and racism. North Carolina College was the first African American college with state funding in the USA.
The college is now North Carolina Central University. Dr. James E. Shepard remained President of this institution for higher education until his death.
With this new lease on life for the college, the state granted it the finances for a full gymnasium, large library and faculty cottages along with a male dorm for over 100 students and an auditorium for about 900. From there, it grew in size to over 1,500 students, and the institution had a value of approximately $4 million.
All in all, North Carolina College had one of the largest academic curricula in the nation at the time, and the biggest bonus of it all was the fact that the college was located in and near a prosperous Black community, full of entrepreneurs and more, in the city.
Major Contributor To Hayti District of Durham & Largest Life Insurance Co. in the South
Durham was the city of prosperity for Black students and families and the college was a great addition to the community. As a matter of fact, James E. Shepard was the major investors of what is known as Hayti District in Durham.
It was Shepard who invested, along with a handful of other prominent Black men, for the founding of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company (founded by John Merrick in 1898). It was through this Insurance company, which was also very much involved in real estate, that much of the Hayti District was purchased and built by Black money.
Hayti District was booming, and became the Black Mecca of the South or Black Wall Street of Durham at that particular point in time, covering 4 city blocks, being home of the most powerful African American Life Insurance company in the South at that time. Hayti was founded in the late 1800s but destroyed in the 1960s by what is considered “urban renewal”.
James Edward Shepard passed away at his home in Durham, North Carolina on October 6, 1947 and was buried in Beechwood Cemetery. His health had been failing for several months before his death. It was through his vision and financial business sense that African Americans around the country had the opportunity to learn and earn in a land where they were forbidden from so much due to segregation.
- Year: 1880; Census Place: Raleigh, Wake, North Carolina; Roll: 984; Page: 274B; Enumeration District: 267
- Year: 1900; Census Place: Durham, Durham, North Carolina; Page: 26; Enumeration District: 0031; FHL microfilm: 1241193
- Year: 1940; Census Place: Durham, Durham, North Carolina; Roll: m-t0627-02902; Page: 6B; Enumeration District: 32-27
- The Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)17 Jul 1943, Sat Page 14