A Morrisville pharmaceutical entrepreneur and his wife are giving N.C. State University $8.1 million to create a center to study immigration, particularly the massive exodus from his native Lebanon.
The Moise A. Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies is the university’s first endowed center, and the Khayrallahs’ gift is the largest in the history of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. NCSU officials celebrated the announcement Tuesday.
“This unique center will provide our faculty and students with numerous opportunities to ask questions about the Lebanese diaspora, and also about other migrations across the world,” said NCSU Chancellor Randy Woodson. “In doing so, it will advance knowledge about the global movements of peoples, ideas, commodities and cultures, and engage one of the most important and pressing dynamics in human history and globalization.”
Moise Khayrallah had teamed with NCSU history professor Akram Khater on a program to research and document the more than 130-year-old story of the Lebanese community in North Carolina. The results included a documentary film and a multimedia exhibit at the N.C. Museum of History, which is now on tour around the state.
Those projects, and a desire to repay North Carolina for its hospitality and opportunities, led him to fund the center, he said.
Khater will be director of the new center, which among other things is expected to help K-12 teachers create lesson plans that integrate the story of community and immigration into the history of the United States.
There were two main waves of immigration that brought Lebanese to North Carolina. The first, driven by economic issues, famine and war in Lebanon, that arrived from the 1880s into the 1920s. The second, which started in 1975, was powered mainly by the civil war there.
About two-thirds of those who came in that first wave made a living through door-to-door peddling in some form, and some of those families later opened retail shops and grew well-known businesses such as Lowes Foods and the company that owns the Joseph F. Koury Convention Center in Greensboro.
There are now about 16,000 Lebanese-Americans in the state, according to Khater. There are now as many Lebanese living outside Lebanon as in it, and that unusual pattern of immigration is worth studying at the national and international levels, Khayrallah said.
“The ultimate goal is not just the Lebanese diaspora, but it’s really studying the importance of diasporas overall in building societies such as the one that we have here in the United States,” he said.
He and his wife, Vera, a social worker with Wake County Human Services, came here in 1983. Both earned graduate degrees at UNC-Chapel Hill before he went on to found a string of companies that develop drugs.
“This country the best example of what can be accomplished when people get together, forget their differences, look for commonalities and build a society that is one of the most vibrant societies on earth,” he said.