This week's Fact Friday comes to you from "Inside UNC Charlotte."
We’ve all heard the chant: FOR-TY! NI-NERS! From football games to commencement, wherever Niners are gathered, you’re sure to hear it.
It’s a rallying cry for all of Niner Nation, a declaration of the common ground we share — a love for UNC Charlotte and a desire to see it thrive. It’s a reminder that together, we are all Niners.
But how did the University become known as the Charlotte 49ers? To recognize Niner Nation Week, we share our story of perseverance and resilience.
UNC Charlotte originally began as the Charlotte Center of the University of North Carolina (CCUNC) in 1946, founded to serve the educational needs of veterans returning from World War II — one of a handful of similar institutions across the state. These were created in response to rising education demands generated by the war and its technology.
In 1949, after just three years, North Carolina moved to close all the state’s college centers, declaring that on-campus facilities were sufficient to meet the needs of returning veterans. However, Bonnie E. Cone, the University's founder, and her supporters were keenly aware of the region’s need for public higher education and valiantly fought to keep the institution open. In a dramatic turn of events, Cone and her supporters succeeded and Charlotte College was officially established that same year.
Were it not for the tenacity and determination of Miss Bonnie, as she was affectionately known, UNC Charlotte would not exist today. Thanks to that ambitious attitude and pioneering spirit, and in honor of the year 1949, the University officially adopted the “49ers” nickname.
Fun Fact: Basement Beginnings
Charlotte College originally opened in the basement of Charlotte’s Central High School, which is now part of Central Piedmont Community College on Elizabeth Avenue. It moved to its current location in University City in 1961.
However, the “49ers” moniker wasn’t officially adopted until 1961. During its early years, the school’s nickname was the Owls because the institution operated primarily at night — and even fielded a football team.
The rapid evolution from a night school to a more traditional college prompted the student body to reevaluate the name — and the school colors. In 1961, following a student vote, the “49ers” nickname was officially adopted with light blue and white replacing maroon and gray as school colors.
And four years later, in 1965, Charlotte College became the University of North Carolina at Charlotte when it officially joined the UNC System as its fourth member; another student vote was held changing the school colors to green and white.
There are a few lucky occurrences and coincidences related to the 49er nickname.
In 1965, the N.C. Legislature voted 49-0 to formally transform Charlotte College into UNC Charlotte, with State Senator Irwin “Ike” Belk — an ardent supporter of the University — intentionally abstaining ensuring the final tally would be 49.
The campus is fortuitously located on N.C. Highway 49, but not atop an abandoned gold mine as rumors have stated.
To learn more, check out the full article below and other UNC Charlotte-related Fact Fridays.
Until next week!
"How UNC Charlotte Became the 49ers," by Jared Moon, Inside UNC Charlotte, October 14, 2022.
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“History is not the past, it is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.” - James Baldwin