I hope everyone made the most of their week and is looking forward to the weekend as we remember and honor those who lost their lives and were injured on UNC Charlotte's campus last week. The incident took place in the historic Kennedy Building. It is my hope that that by sharing a bit of history about the building where the incident took place, that we all can deepen our connection to the unwavering strength the University, its institutions, and its staff, students, and supporters have embodied since its earliest days, which Riley Howell and Reed Parlier epitomized.
UNC Charlotte is one of a generation of universities founded in metropolitan areas of the United States immediately after World War II in response to rising education demands generated by the war and its technology.
To serve returning veterans, North Carolina opened 14 evening college centers in communities across the state. The Charlotte Center opened Sept. 23, 1946, offering evening classes to 278 freshmen and sophomore students in the facilities of Charlotte’s Central High School. After three years, the state closed the centers, declaring that on-campus facilities weren't sufficient to meet the needs of returning veterans and recent high school graduates.
Charlotte’s education and business leaders, long aware of the area’s unmet needs for higher education, moved to have the Charlotte Center taken over by the city school district and operated as Charlotte College, offering the first two years of college courses. Later the same leaders asked Charlotte voters to approve a two-cent tax to support that college. Charlotte College drew students from the city, Mecklenburg County and from a dozen surrounding counties. The two-cent tax was later extended to all of Mecklenburg County. Ultimately financial support for the college became a responsibility of the State of North Carolina.
As soon as Charlotte College was firmly established, efforts were launched to give it a campus of its own. With the backing of Charlotte business leaders and legislators from Mecklenburg and surrounding counties, land was acquired on the northern fringe of the city and bonds were passed to finance new facilities. In 1961, Charlotte College moved its growing student body into two new buildings on what was to become a 1,000-acre campus 10 miles from downtown Charlotte.
Three years later, the North Carolina legislature approved bills making Charlotte College a four-year, state-supported college. The next year, 1965, the legislature approved bills creating the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the fourth campus of the statewide university system. In 1969, UNC Charlotte began offering programs leading to master’s degrees. In 1992, it was authorized to offer programs leading to doctoral degrees.
The first of those original two buildings constructed on campus was the Kennedy Building, named after Woodford A. “Woody” Kennedy.
The building was designed by A. G. Odell Jr., the architect of Ovens Auditorium and Bojangles Coliseum. Sometimes called the “spiritual father of Charlotte College,” Kennedy was a member of the first advisory board of the institution in 1947. He was named to its eight-member board two years later. Without Kennedy’s perseverance, Charlotte College likely would have remained a two-year community college.
Kennedy believed that Charlotte deserved and needed a great university. He stated that a thousand additional high school graduates could go to college each year if the opportunities available in other parts of the state were available in Charlotte. With a zeal he once termed an obsession, Kennedy worked tirelessly to raise money and support to make that happen.
He encountered a lack of support among many of Charlotte’s business executives and disinterest from politicians. His rhetoric sometimes became strident, characterizing critics of the project as naysayers and deriding the state’s support as a ‘sop.’
At the time, the school operated with a part-time faculty who taught in part-time classrooms, and it was financed almost entirely by tuition paid by student loans until Kennedy pushed for and obtained the initial state funding in 1955.
As a member of the college’s site selection committee, he searched for a scenic location with room for growth and expansion; the committee ultimately settled on the present location of the UNC Charlotte campus. He told reporters, “I may not but you will live to see 10,000 students at Charlotte College.”
When Kennedy Building first opened, it housed science laboratories (chemistry, physics, biology and geology), as well as labs for a variety of engineering courses. There were 10 classrooms, 12 faculty offices and a lecture room with elevated seating for 100. The building also served as a temporary library; its first floor contained 18,000 volumes while Atkins Library was being built.
Here are several photos taken between 1960 and 1963 of the library portion of the building.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have interesting Charlotte facts you’d like to share or just to provide feedback!
Information taken from:
UNCC Special Collections Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/unccspeccoll/
University History, Office of News and Information: https://news.uncc.edu/information-media-kit/university-history
Kennedy Hall: Historic building rich with UNCC History: https://www.wsoctv.com/news/kennedy-hall-historic-building-rich-with-uncc-history/947293521
Kennedy Building Honors University's Spiritual Father: https://inside.uncc.edu/news-features/2012-10-01/kennedy-building-honors-university’s-‘spiritual-father’
Library: Kennedy Building: https://library.uncc.edu/islandora/object/ua%3Auapcc42
“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass