Dudley, James B.

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James B. Dudley

Educator, college president

As teacher, school principal, and finally as president of North Carolina's historically black land-grant college, former slave James B. Dudley helped to shape the educational background of many young black people. A multidimensional man, Dudley used the press as well as his community affiliations to promote black education, black economic development, and civil rights; he did so despite racial hostilities in the state and received the respect and support of blacks as well as whites.

James B. Dudley was born a slave and an only child in Wilmington, North Carolina, to John Bishop and Annie Hatch Dudley, slaves of Edward B. Dudley who was governor of North Carolina from December 1836 to January 1841. Governor Dudley was an advocate of education and one of the state's most progressive governors. John Dudley was a highly skilled and well-respected carpenter who taught his son the carpentry trade with the aim of equipping him to become self-sufficient. Later, young Dudley used his skill for summer employment to pay his school expenses. Wilmington at that time provided no public schools for its black residents. Determined that their son would be educated, however, the Dudleys saw that their Jimmie, as he was called then, was trained by private teachers. Later he attended Wilmington Normal School, a local institution that the Freedmen's Bureau established. There his instruction included Latin grammar; all of his teachers were white.

One of Dudley's teachers, Ella Roper, recognized his talent and encouraged him to continue his education at the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia, a prestigious high school for blacks founded by the Society of Friends in 1837. Dudley attended the institute for one year and then enrolled at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he studied elementary education. Roper and Dudley remained in contact with each other, exchanging letters regularly. At Shaw, Dudley was often in difficulty due to his playing some mischievous prank, but he tempered his sense of humor with serious ambition. Always interested in enhancing his education, sometime later he spent summers studying at Harvard University. Still later he attended historically black Livingstone College in his home state. He was awarded an M.A. and Wilberforce University conferred on him the J.D. These degrees were probably honorary, though. In fact, Warmoth T. Gibbs states in History of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College that Dudley "had limited formal education."

After his study at Shaw University, Dudley worked as a mechanic's apprentice. But he had performed well in his studies and soon, upon examination in Sampson County, received a first-grade teacher's certificate. In 1880, when he was twenty-one, he became a first-grade teacher in that county. The next year he was named principal of the Peabody Graded Normal School in Wilmington, where he remained until 1896. He became known throughout the state and was recognized as one of its most effective educators.

Dudley married Susan Wright Sampson of Wilmington on February 23, 1882; she had also attended Wilberforce University in Ohio and taught in the Peabody school when James Dudley was principal there. Susan Dudley's artistic and literary talents were recognized later on. The Dudleys had two daughters; one died at a young age, and the other, Vivian, married S. B. Jones, a vice president and college physician at the Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro, later health officer at St. Kitts in the British West Indies.

In addition to his work in Wilmington as an educator, Dudley edited the weekly black newspaper, the Wilmington Chronicle. He organized the Perpetual Building and Loan Association and used both the Chronicle and the loan association to encourage thrift, economy, and enterprise among black people. He was active in politics as well but never sought political office. In 1891 Dudley's brother-in-law served as register of deeds for New Hanover County, which helped Dudley remain acquainted with county affairs as well as with national and foreign matters. A Republican, he represented his party at county and state conventions, and in 1896 he was elected a delegate to the Republican National Convention held in St. Louis. His interest in the educational arena continued, as demonstrated by his service on the board of trustees for the Agricultural and Mechanical College (now North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, or A&T) in Greensboro. From May 29, 1895 to May 27, 1896, Dudley was secretary of the board.

Becomes College President

Dudley's service on the board of trustees as well his reputation across North Carolina as a capable educator led to his election as president of A&T on May 28, 1896, a post he held for twenty-nine years. He succeeded founding president John O. Crosby and was the first black to head the school that had been founded in 1891 under the Second Morrill Act, or the Second Land-Grant Act (1890) that made it possible for southern and border states to establish or provide separate black land-grant colleges. Dudley moved swiftly to strengthen the struggling school. When he took charge, there were eight faculty members, fifty-eight students, and two brick buildings that stood on twenty-six acres. By the end of his tenure, there were forty-six faculty members, 476 students enrolled in the winter program and 500 in summer school. He increased the facility as well, increasing the buildings to thirteen and the campus to one hundred acres of land.


Born in Wilmington, North Carolina on November 2
Becomes fist-grade teacher in Sampson county, North Carolina
Named principal of Peabody Graded Normal School in Wilmington
Marries Susan Wright Sampson on February 23
Elected secretary to the Board of Trustees, Agricultural and Mechanical (A&M) College in Greensboro
Elected president of A&M (later A&T)
Receives M.A. from Livingstone College
Closes female department at A&T
Organizes State Famers' Union and Cooperative Society
With the federal government, offers A&T as military training site
Appointed state commissioner for the national Memorial Association
Dies in Greensboro, North Carolina on April 4; James Benson Dudley High School in Greensboro named in his honor

His concern for the quality of life for black people was constant. For example, Dudley believed that black faculty could serve the needs of black students at the racially segregated college and, therefore, instituted a gradual transition from white faculty to black. The school was founded to serve the agricultural and technical needs of blacks, hence the name A&T. But Dudley worked to strengthen the agricultural programs that were available; he stressed agricultural training rather than mechanical and industrial. He supported educator and Tuskegee Institute founder Booker T. Washington in his work to promote agriculture and public service. So devoted was Dudley to this concept that in 1901 he closed the female department of the college, claiming that women were poorly suited to agricultural pursuits. Moreover, their presence was a disservice to such programs, he reasoned, and hampered their development.

In order to secure annual appropriations for A&T, Dudley followed the tradition of inviting the college's alumni to meet with the state legislature in Raleigh each year, where they could bring political attention to the school's needs. He was a talented fundraiser himself and had winning ways with both black and white contributors. Thus, in time he was responsible for lifting the college from near bankruptcy its prestigious position in the state and in the South. He attended conventions and conferences to gather new ideas for the school, and he read widely. He even taught history and civics. His biography in Nathan C. Newbold's Five North Carolina Negro Educators indicates that he "became a master of detail."

His concern for black farms and farming led his joining J. H. Bluford, head of the college's agricultural department, in order to organize in 1912 the State Farmers' Union and Cooperative Society. Local unions were set up in each county in North Carolina. The union was headquartered at A&T, and aimed to discourage the credit and mortgage system that had been detrimental to the success of black farmers. According to Newbold, the organization also helped black farmers buy and sell products, "control methods of production and the distribution of farm products," as well as to "secure uniform prices." The organization succeeded in raising the standards of living among black farmers in the state.

The Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 that marked the beginning of federal funding for vocational education programs in the United States proved helpful to Dudley and the college. In 1917, he secured matching funds for the Smith-Hughes appropriations and then established a vocational agriculture department for preparing teachers of agriculture for the public rural schools in North Carolina.

Dudley's concern was for a well-rounded student. Under his administration, the school held chapel services each Sunday, led by local pastors of different faiths. There was also a flourishing temperance society.

Dudley in the Matter of Race

Dudley remained concerned with justice for his race. Never an activist, he was a man of passive resistance, who urged his people to be patient as they waited for justice to come. But the Wilmington (North Carolina) race riots of 1898 might have put his family in harm's way; certainly they caused him concern for his family's well-being as well as for that of other black residents in Wilmington. When the riots began, he rushed to his home town to "calm the Negro population and act as mediator between black and white," wrote Kenneth Warlick in Dictionary of North Carolina Biography. Both the mayor and the local law enforcement officers met him and provided protection for him during his visit. He gathered his family and returned to Greensboro.

His concern for race was seen again in 1917, when a part of the college grounds was transformed into a military training camp to help meet the nation's military needs during World War I. A&T trained more men for the military than any other black land-grant college. Dudley urged his people to remain loyal to the United States. Though he was a race man who recognized the racial conflicts and grievances that he had seen in Wilmington and elsewhere, he said in a June 1917 speech, "This is not the time to discuss our racial conflicts," as reported in Five North Carolina Negro Educators. "In every war and conflict that our country has engaged in, we have as a race been loyal," he continued, and he called for acts of patriotism.

His interest in race matters, his speeches before interracial groups, and his work to promote racial cooperation, all led to his post as chair of the Negro division of the Greensboro Interracial Committee. By all accounts, he was a successful champion against legal segregation in the state.

James and Susan Dudley made their mark in the local and broader community; for example, Susan Dudley wrote the words for A&T's college song, and was active in drama on campus. For most of his life, Dudley was active in a variety of affairs. He was a member of the State Teachers' Association for Negroes and was its president for six years. His activities in the Farmers' Alliance movement helped bring about legislation that established A&T College. In 1920 North Carolina governor Cameron Morrison appointed Dudley as state commissioner for the national Memorial Association, a group formed to help build a memorial in Washington, D.C., to honor black soldiers and sailors who had fought in national wars. Dudley also served as trustee of the National Religious Training School and Chautauqua, chartered in 1910 and later renamed North Carolina Central University in Durham. He was an advisory member of the board of directors, Inter-State Church Association for Whites and Negroes; president of the North Carolina Anti-Tuberculosis League; honorary member of the board of trustees of Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia; founder of the Rural Extension work in the state; and chair of the Negro Railroad Commission.

Dudley maintained an interest in debating and encouraged intercollegiate debate. To the most outstanding debater, he presented the "Dudley Cup." He was also interested in art and literature, often referring to these subjects in his speeches. This led to honorary membership in the Oriental Organization for the Recovery and Preservation of the Literature and Art of the Ancient Peoples of the East.

He was the only black member of the committee of city extension for Greensboro. Among other memberships, Dudley belonged to the Masons (having served over twenty years as foreign correspondent of the Grand Lodge of Masons), the Odd Fellows, and Pythians. He was a member of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greensboro and served the church as trustee and Sunday school teacher.

Dudley was an imposing figure with a massive frame, and he demonstrated great physical poise. Quoted in Five North Carolina Negro Educators, an editorial eulogy from the Greensboro Daily News of May 3, 1925 called him "a thoroughbred in every respect." He was a courteous and polite man with "a high degree of integrity, diplomacy, common sense, and courage." He had great consideration for all people, regardless of race, and he had an abiding concern for racial equality. He made a far-reaching impact on the lives of numerous young people as well as adults. In a very touching way, according to Five North Carolina Negro Educators, he may be remembered as a diplomat and philosopher "who forms a link between a State dominated by one race, and another race dwelling within it."

By mid-spring 1925, Dudley was physically weakened. He suffered a severe headache in his office on April 3 that year and left to rest at the president's residence, a mansion located near the college known as the Magnolias. Whatever his condition, he remained at home the next day and attended to college matters from his room. His condition worsened. After his death at the Magnolias on April 4, he was eulogized by the Greensboro press, the A&T trustees, and others. His funeral was held in Murphy Hall on campus. As his body passed under the college arch en route to the train station, taps were sounded. A second funeral was held at St. Stephens Church in Wilmington, and he was buried in the Pine Forest Cemetery, where a full Masonic ceremony was held. In his honor, the board of trustees named the administration building Dudley Hall; after it was destroyed by fire, the new administration building bore his name as well—Dudley Memorial Building. Dudley Day was established to honor him on his birthday, and the street on which he lived was renamed Dudley Street. The new high school for blacks, erected in Greensboro in 1925, was named in his honor, James Benson Dudley High School (now James Benson Dudley Senior High School and Gymnasium). Now a racially integrated school, Dudley High, as it was known for many years, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. The state honored Dudley's memory with a highway marker on U.S. 17 in Wilmington, pointing out his grave site north of Market Street at Sixteenth.



Caldwell, A. B., ed. History of the American Negro. North Carolina Edition. Vol. 4. Atlanta, Ga.: A. B. Caldwell Publishing Co., 1921.

Gibbs, Warmoth T. History of the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical School. Dubuque, Iowa: William C. Brown Book Co., 1966.

Newbold, Nathan C. Five North Carolina Negro Educators. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1939.

Nichols, J. L., and William H. Crogman. Progress of a Race, or the Remarkable Advancement of the American Negro. Naperville, Ill.: J. L. Nichols and Co., 1925.

Paths Toward Freedom: A Biographical History of Blacks and Indians in North Carolina by Blacks and Indians. Raleigh: Center for Urban Affairs, North Carolina State University at Raleigh, 1976.

Richardson, Clement. National Cyclopedia of the Colored Race. Vol. 1. Montgomery, Ala.: National Publishing Co., 1919.

Warlick, Kenneth. "James Benson Dudley." In Dictionary of North Carolina Biography. Vol. 2. Ed. William S. Powell. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986.

Who Was Who in America. Vol. I. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who, 1966.


"James Benson Dudley." Biography. http://www.library.ncat.edu/info/archives/dudley.html (Accessed 14 January 2006).


Pitts, Gloria. Email to Jessie Carney Smith, January 18, 2005.


Several of Dudley's speeches, financial documents, biographical sketches, and the student newspaper the A&T Register devoted to Dudley when he died are in the archives at North Carolina A&T State University. Correspondence from Dudley may be found in the Jackson Library, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, in the records of Chancellor Julius Isaac Foust and Chancellor Charles Duncan McIver.

                                  Jessie Carney Smith