The Wake County Board of Education honored a giant in education for African-Americans in the Triangle, renaming the Zebulon Middle School auditorium after N.C. Central University founder James E. Shepard.
The middle school used to be a 12-year black school named for Shepard during the days of segregated schools.
Bobby Dunn, president of the James E. Shepard Alumni Association, said his group had been working for three years with the Wake County Public School System to make the recognition happen.
“It has a long history and legacy, and we didn’t want to lose it,” Dunn said. “So we decided to name it after James E. Shepard.”
Born in Raleigh, Shepard graduated from Shaw University in 1894. He worked as a pharmacist in Durham’s predominantly black Hayti District.
He founded the National Religious Training School and Chautauqua, which would become NCCU, in the Hayti District in 1910. He also was NCCU’s first president, serving for nearly 40 years.
The Wake school board approved the renaming request April 19 in the consent agenda portion of its meeting, which is reserved for noncontroversial items requiring no board discussion, but two board members did briefly make note of it.
“I just wanted to sort of recognize that group, the Shepard Alumni Association, and Zebulon Middle for that recognition,” Board Member Keith Sutton said.
Chairman Tom Benton who served as principal at the school when it was Zebulon High School, noted Zebulon Middle’s history as Shepard School, “It’s very meaningful to the community.”
Dunn, 78, went to Shepard School for 12 years, graduating in 1955. He is a retired teacher and basketball coach who worked in Nash County for 26 years and for Elizabeth City-Pasquotank County Schools for eight. He also worked in administration for the Police Athletic League in New York.
Until 1946, Dunn said, the school only went up to 11th grade.
He said his teachers taught him to be understanding of how society was with regard to race and segregation at the time.
“It took a lot of nurturing,” Dunn said. “Some people at that time were hot-headed, and they wanted it right away. But our teachers were able to nurture us to understand that it’s a process. We learned that it takes patience to make change that would benefit the whole community.”
Dunn said the alumni association will hold a ceremony to mark the occasion before the end of the school year, hopefully at Zebulon Middle, but plans are still in the early stages.
For now, he’s just glad that the school board decided to show respect to the all-black schools that so many Wake residents attended. “People can walk by and still see James E. Shepard’s name somewhere in Wake County. ... We’re just so proud of (the school) and we want people to know that we are proud of what we learned at James E. Shepard School.”
Matt Goad: 919-829-4826