This project grew out of a desire by the Library Director, Mr. Bobby C. Wynn to see the Archives and Special Collections materials held in the Charles Chesnutt Library be made available in a digital format for display and access on the Library's Web pages. Originally, the goal was to have all of the material in the Archives & Special Collections Department digitized, which is many hundreds of thousands of pages. Mr. Wynn felt that this would facilitate access to the collection for all. Students, especially those in the Freshman Seminar classes who are given assignments to research the history of the university would benefit, in addition to faculty, staff, alumni, citizens of North Carolina and the United States and other researchers would be interested in and want access to primary source materials contained in the archives of Chesnutt Library because there is an abundance of information that relates to the history of the education of black people, and that making this material available digitally would provide multiple points of access for all. All of this was to be done without the leadership of an Archivist, which the library had been without for three years at that point in time.
A grant proposal was submitted in December 2002, and funding approved in January 2003. Chesnutt library was awarded a History of Higher Education in North Carolina Demonstration Project Digitization grant award inthe amount of $17,275.00 to assist the statewide North Carolina Exploring Cultural Heritage Online (ECHO) project by digitizing and making available online, primary and secondary source materials that reflect the early history of Fayetteville State University and its evolution from a grade school to a university.
For the NC ECHO Project we narrowed the focus on were the major collections of the Charles Chesnutt Family Papers, Dr. J. W. Seabrook’s Papers and Dr. Rudolph Jones’ Papers. These collections contain much information related to the founding, early history of the school, and its subsequent evolvement into an institution of higher education. We knew there was a research demand from classes focusing on primary research concerning the lives of the women in the Charles Chesnutt Family Collection, and that Dr. Seabrook’s and Dr. Jones’ collections contained a wide variety of items collected through the years as the Howard School, founded in 1867 evolved into the North Carolina State Colored Normal School in 1877, Fayetteville State Teachers College in 1939 and Fayetteville State College in 1963 to Fayetteville State University in 1969. The evolution over time from a school offering grade school education, then high school, college and university levels of education. Fayetteville State University was the second publicly funded institution of higher education in the State of North Carolina and the first for African Americans.
Chesnutt Library has a collection of unique items from Charles Waddell Chesnutt, noted African American author, and several members of his family. Letters, cards and other items are available from his sisters Lillian Chesnutt, Anne Chesnutt Waddell and Sara Chesnutt; and daughters Ethel P. Chesnutt Williams, Helen Maria Chesnutt, and Dorothy K. Chesnutt Slade. The Charles Chesnutt Family collection provides a historical look into an effort by one family to provide for the education of their children and other African American children after the period of the Civil War, during the Era of Reconstruction, in Fayetteville, North Carolina from 1867. Andrew J. Chesnutt was one of the original seven founding fathers of the Howard School, which his children attended. Charles Waddell Chesnutt attended the Howard School and later became its assistant principal in1877, and principal from 1880 until 1883. His sisters Lillian, Anne and Sara attended the North Carolina State Colored Normal School, as the Howard School was renamed in 1877. Anne and Sara were both educators in the city of Fayetteville in Cumberland County. What is reflected in this collection is the ongoing theme of the importance of education, higher education and teacher training in North Carolina. By a legislative act of 1877, the North Carolina General Assembly provided for the establishment of a Normal School for the education of Black teachers. The Howard School was chosen as the most promising because of its successful record during the ten years of its existence. It was designated a teacher training institution, and its name was changed to the North Carolina State Colored Normal School, becoming the South’s oldest Normal School.
The library has former Presidents Dr. J. W. Seabrook’s Papers (1933-1956) and Dr. Rudolph Jones’ Papers (1956-1969). Under these presidents, the school went through tremendous growth as it evolved into a degree granting college, received accreditation, and expanded its curriculum. Under Dr. J. Ward Seabrook’s presidency the school became Fayetteville State Teachers College, and was authorized to grant the Bachelor of Science degree in Education. The college received both state and regional accreditation in 1947. When Dr. Seabrook retired in 1956, he was succeeded by Dr. Rudolph Jones. During Dr. Jones’ administration, the curriculum was expanded to include majors in secondary education and programs leading to degrees outside of the teaching field. The name of the school was changed to Fayetteville State College in 1963. Also, under Dr. Jones’ leadership, six additions were made to the physical plant to accommodate a rapidly expanding enrollment.
There is also a collection of historic photographs of the campus from the original Howard School on Gillespie Street, founded in 1867, and of the campus through the intervening years of growth.