ECSU HOMECOMING HISTORY
Excerpt from “A History of Elizabeth City State University: A Story of Survival” By Evelyn A. Johnson, 1980
When Dr. S. D, Williams began his administration on January 1, 1946, “homecoming” had not become a tradition. The institution had been a full four-year college for nine years. Many graduates who had participated in the athletic program while enrolled as students were eager to return to their alma mater to view the sports of their choice. At one time, Thanksgiving Day was the “big day” for alumni and friends to return to see a football game. This proved unsuccessful because larger institutions, such as Morgan State in Baltimore and Virginia State in Petersburg, had built up a clientele for similar games on this day and smaller colleges suffered financial losses from these larger and more competitive colleges which attracted larger crowds.
The custom of providing for a “Miss Homecoming” had been established during the Harold L. Trigg administration, when in 1939, Miss Izetta Bowser had been proclaimed “Miss ECSTC.” After this first celebration of homecoming with a reigning queen, there was a brief lapse of time in which no homecomings occurred.
Beginning in 1946, homecoming activities were better organized. The selection of queens for this coveted position was now done by popular vote. Money needed to operate homecoming was provided, not by young ladies competing for the status of “queen” but through student fees, gate receipts and advertisements from local businesses.
Though Winston-Salem, Norfolk State, and Virginia Union were often played during homecoming celebrations, Fayetteville State College became the traditionally accepted friendly
opponent. There existed a beautiful relationship between the two institutions, similar to that of
good neighbors. The two presidents and many faculty members of both schools were on very good terms. Far-
reaching effect of this relationship developed to the point that faculty and students designated the
schools as “sister institutions.” Homecoming with Fayetteville State was looked upon as a big challenge
and drawing card for public spectators with increased gate receipts.
Beginning in the Williams administration and stretching into the Ridley administration, preparation for each annual homecoming was placed in the hands of a central committee, chaired by this writer. For a period of eighteen years, the names of Evelyn A. Johnson, Harvey L. Thomas, superintendent of buildings and grounds; Edward N. Smith, assistant business manager; Kenneth R. Jeffries, business manager; Timothy H. Wamack, social science instructor; and William J. Muldrow, psychology instructor, appeared on this committee to plan and coordinate the homecoming activities for a gala affair involving the whole college family. The plans included letters to all organizations announcing the date of homecoming and directions concerning the building of floats. All organizations willingly bought their own materials. In 1962, approximately thirty organizations built floats.
Other important plans by this committee included: (1) campus decorations through work done by students in the art department and supervised by art instructors; (2) hospitality and courtesies extended to visiting homecoming queens, alumni, and friends through hosts and hostesses selected from residents in dormitories and supervised by dormitory directors; (3) securing competent marshals, police escort, and permission for the parade; (4) halftime activities; (5) securing of bands for the parade; (6) selecting judges and deciding upon the criteria for judging floats; (7) choosing a general theme for the parade to assure unity in the sub-themes used by student organizations for their floats; (8) securing vehicles— cars, especially convertibles for queens, trailers to be decorated and tractors to pull them; and (9) publicizing activities, taking care of heavy traffic and securing a public speaking system.
The homecoming committee depended heavily upon the services of the maintenance personnel, under the supervision of Mr. Harvey L. Thomas, to engineer the mechanics of “homecoming” and many other important celebrations. The unique, collapsible information center designed by them is reassembled for use each year.
The offer of cash awards for the three floats rated first, second, and third places
was an incentive for groups to enter into friendly competition. Some organizations consistently ranked
high in ratings during the early years when the stage was being set for future improvements in parades. Names
and directors of each organization were: choir, Evelyn A. Johnson; dramatics club, Julia M. Hoffler;
Thalia Sorosis Club
and senior class, Dorothy E. Thomas; freshman class, Helen Muldrow; and library, Gwendolyn Midgette. For many years, floats designed and built to transport “Miss Elizabeth City State Teachers College” in the homecoming parade were creations of Mr. William J, Muldrow, psychology’ teacher.
The plan of providing a theme for each parade was not arrived at overnight. For the first two or three years, each organization was allowed to select its own slogan based on the purpose, aims, or objectives of its group. The central homecoming committee, however, thought that one major theme for the parade would bring unity to the activity and would afford uniform criteria for judging floats. These criteria, as set up by the committee, were: (1) a selected theme based on the general theme; (2) good execution of the theme; (3) originality; (4) skillful construction and good design; (5) poise and dignity of characters or persons on floats; (6) floats to be built by students only from organizations competing for a cash award.
Homecoming activities were designed to be educational ventures on the part of students.
Alumni support contributed significantly to the success of these ventures. The Brooklyn and Manhattan
Alumni Chapters raised funds by having alumni run for the title of “Miss Alumni.” On the occasion
of homecoming, “Miss Alumni” rode in a conspicuous position in the big parade, which was the highlight
of the day.
Bands from nearby high schools within a radius of 100 to 150 miles came, not only to show off their accomplishments, but also to cooperate with the institution. Bandmasters from P. W. Moore High School and Pasquotank Elementary School of Elizabeth City; D. F. Walker High School of Edenton; Robert L. Vann High School of Ahoskie; C. S. Brown High School of Winton; and J. E. J. Moore High School of Disputanta, Virginia, was faithful in supplying bands for this big event.
The location of Elizabeth City State Teachers College was a handicap in some respects. College bands could not be secured because they were too far from Elizabeth City. It was not “appropriate” during this era to use bands from colleges attended by whites only. However, out of every problem comes some good. Many student participants in the high-school bands often chose Elizabeth City State to enroll. Without knowing it, the college had at its fingertips one of the best recruitment agencies possible.
In Elizabeth City, motels, hotels, and inns were closed to returning black alumni and friends. The homecoming committee took care of this situation by getting local alumni and friends to provide overnight accommodations in their homes for returning alumni. To say that the “open house gesture” was created out of a need to provide courtesy for returning alumni of Elizabeth City State Teachers College is to state a fact. The hospitality and cooperation exhibited by the local community have become traditional, which is no surprise, for Elizabeth City has a high percentage of Elizabeth City State Teachers College graduates who are loyal to their alma mater and who always welcome other alumni into their homes.
The event usually closed with a dance. Sometimes the Elizabeth City State students
had a separate dance from that of the alumni, but seniors were sometimes invited to the alumni dance. In
general, alumni at this time frowned upon the mixture of students and alumni at this gala affair. Many
alumni claimed that they could not “let their hair down” when a much younger group was present. This accounted
for the alumni dance being moved from the college campus gymnasium to the city armory. This
has continued until the present time.
In summary, it is correct to state that homecoming, as it is known today at Elizabeth City State University, was organized, formalized, and stabilized during the Williams administration. It is one of the fine heritages of which alumni are proud.