Arts at UNCW


Black students, scholars, and leaders have made significant contributions to UNCW and our surrounding community. To celebrate the courage and tenacity of those who led the charge towards their right to higher education, the Office of the Arts has created a gallery that highlights the trailblazers of the past and present, and exposes the challenges they overcame—many of which still exist today. The UNCW Office of the Arts stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.


Hubert A. Eaton

Dr. Hubert A. Eaton

Dr. Hubert A. Eaton (1916-1991), longtime Wilmington, NC. physician, became the first African American Chair of the UNCW Board of Trustees. Eaton was the first African American to chair the Board of Trustees at a non-HBCU UNC campus. As a Civil Rights leader, Dr. Eaton was the primary catalyst for the desegregation of UNCW, New Hanover County Schools, and county hospitals. Click the media link to read the comments Dr. Eaton made at a 1981 Board of Trustees meeting. [Photo: Courtesy of New Hanover County Public Library, North Carolina Room]

 Ernest Fullwood

Ernest Fullwood '66

Ernest Fullwood (pictured) and Marshall Collins were the first Black students to enroll in the newly integrated Wilmington College. Fullwood became the first African American to serve on the Wilmington College Student Senate and was the first Black student to graduate from Wilmington College on June 12th, 1966. Following graduation, Fullwood completed law school at North Carolina Central University and became an attorney and judge. Collins became a minister.  [Photo: Courtesy of New Hanover County Public Library, North Carolina Room] [Media Link]


Lela Pierce Thompson '67

Lela Pierce Thompson was the first Black female student to graduate from Wilmington College on June 11th, 1967. Click the media link to read an interview published in the Fall/Winter 2018 edition of UNCW Magazine. [Photo: Office of University Relations]

 Ralph Parker

Ralph Parker

Ralph Parker (1940-2017), a native of South Port, NC, began working at the University of North Carolina Wilmington in 1971 as Assistant Director of Admissions. He later served as the Dean of Students and the Director of Admissions and was the founder and first Director of the Office of Minority Affairs. After retiring from UNCW in 1996, he served in numerous civic and professional organizations.

The Ralph H. Parker Scholarship Endowment was established in the late '90s to honor Dr. Parker's longtime service to the university, especially his efforts to attract and retain African American students.

"Dean Parker is a giant in integrity, humility, kindness, character, and professionalism," said Maurice Smith '79, member of the UNCW Board of Trustees. "Ask any student, particularly African American, who knows him, and you will get a sense of the enduring impact Dean Parker has had on all our lives."

Click the media link to read an interview with Ralph Parker from the Randall Library Oral History Collection. [Photo: Office of University Relations]

Dr. Eugene Wright

Dr. Eugene Wright, Jr.

Dr. Eugene Wright, Jr. was sworn in as a Trustee in July 1985 and served as the chairperson of the Board of Trustees in 1995. During his time as a Trustee, he served within the Student Affairs committees.

When asked about his time as Trustee, Dr. Wright stated, "My time as a trustee was marked by my (along with others) awareness of the underrepresentation of African American males at UNCW. This led several of us (faculty, administrators, and community leaders) to start a program, Great Expectations, to focus on increasing the number of African American young men attending college at UNCW. This was a big effort, and certainly, I could not have done this alone. I have attached (click the media link to view) a couple of the programs from the events we held on campus in 1999 and 2002 to recognize and honor the young African American males from southeastern NC. I have included the committee members who deserve most of the credit for the work they did to organize and execute these programs during these two years. The committee grew over the years, and more people were engaged and worked to make this a reality."

Dr. Wright was born in Wilmington and graduated from George Washington High School in Denver, Colorado, in 1969. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering from Princeton University and received his medical degree from Duke University Medical School in 1978. Dr. Wright also served as the Senior Advisor for Medical Affairs at the Cape Fear Valley Health System from 2013 to 2016. Previously he served for thirteen years as the Medical Director for Primary Care and Specialty Practices and as Chief Medical Officer of the health system between 2010 and 2013. Today, he serves as Medical Director for Performance Improvement at the Charlotte AHEC.


Dr. Leroy Upperman

Dr. Leroy Upperman (1913-1996) was an esteemed physician and surgeon who was active in the Wilmington community. He supported scholarships and activities that promoted academic achievement and African American heritage. His love of education and his desire to provide opportunities for the advancement of African American students became his legacy. Named in his honor, the Upperman African American Cultural Center opened in the University Union in 1995. The Upperman Center staff works to fulfill Dr. Upperman's wishes by promoting academic excellence and supporting diversity at UNCW. Click the media link to learn more about Upperman African American Cultural Center, as they celebrate their 25th Anniversary this year. [Photo: Courtesy of New Hanover County Public Library, North Carolina Room]


Dr. Virginia Adams

Dr. Virginia Adams, Ph.D. RN, FAAN, served as the Dean of the School of Nursing from 1994 to 2008. After graduating from Winston-Salem University in 1967, Dr. Adams joined the US Air Force, then later the US Army Reserve serving to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. She earned a master's degree in Maternal Child Nursing from UNC-Chapel Hill, spent 15 years in the nursing practice and education while returning to school to get her doctorate from UNC Greensboro. In 1994, Dr. Adams joined the UNCW School of Nursing as Dean. Under her leadership, Dr. Adams revitalized the School of Nursing by increasing enrollment, establishing the clinical research program, strengthening community partnerships, and launching master programs. Her efforts also led to establishing a nursing education building on campus (now known as McNeill Hall). Adams then went on to cultivate a presence within the international nursing community by founding the International Council of Nursing Education Network and visiting the United Nations in Geneva on as a Fellow of the Global Nurse Leader Institute in 2012.  

When asked to share a personal statement for this gallery, Dr. Adams provided the following: "I encourage future generations to be their authentic self and use their voiced in the protection of human rights and social justice." Click the media link to read an interview with Dr. Adams from the Randall Library Oral History Collection. [Photo: Office of University Relations]


Helena Lee

Lee joined UNCW in 1995 as the assistant director of the Office of Cultural Diversity, later renamed the Office of Minority Affairs, and as director of the Upperman Center. She left UNCW in 2004. Lee’s professional career included serving as manager of training, staff development, and diversity in the West Valley/Mission Community College District in Saratoga, CA; director of the Commission on the Status of Women and women’s coordinator at the Office of Affirmative Action at Santa Clara County government in San Jose, CA; academic counselor, director of the Academic Enhancement Center and interim dean of students at Cape Fear Community College. She was also a teacher, professor, and part-time lecturer at various community colleges and universities throughout the country.

Lee attended Wilmington public schools after graduating from Williston High School. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of Buffalo. She furthered her education by earning a Master of Arts degree in Special Education from Buffalo State Teachers College. A lifelong learner, she continued her post-graduate education by taking courses in college administration, mediation and conciliation, management of affirmative action, and mid-level management at San Jose State University, Arizona State University, and DeAnza College. While in California, she served as moderator and founder of the Black History Academy and Computer Education Program and moderator/facilitator of Black Presbyterian Women of Northern and Southern California.

When she returned to Wilmington, she joined Chestnut Street Presbyterian Church, where she wrote several grants that resulted in the creation of the Computer Awareness Program Systems and the church’s child development center. From 2004-06, she served as the associate executive Presbyter for the Presbytery of Coastal Carolina. She was also a facilitator for Leadership School and the African American Church Conference. She was involved in many organizations on the national level of the denomination, including serving as the secretary to the National Black Presbyterian Caucus, a member of the African American Presbyterian Network, and the Committee on the Self Development of People. Lee was involved in various community organizations and was a member of the Psi Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. [Photo: Randall Library Special Collections]

Dr. Michelle Howard-Vital

Dr. Michelle Howard-Vital

Dr. Michelle Howard-Vital (1952-2018), UNCW's former ViceChancellor of Public Service and Continuing Studies, left a legacy of compassion. During her 10-year tenure as vice chancellor at UNCW, Dr. Howard-Vital greatly enhanced the university's regional and community engagement, youth programs, lifelong learning programs, and distance education programs.  Assistant to Chancellor & Assistant Secretary Board of Trustees, Mark Lanier, remembers her as "a kind-hearted person who could relate to and get along with anyone, of any age, of any status, of any background." Dr. Howard-Vital passed away in 2018 after a long and influential career in higher education. Some of her awards and achievements include the Women of Distinction Award by the Philadelphia Business Journal; the Women Cultivating Women Award in honor of Mary McLeod Bethune; the Association for Black Women in Higher Education Award for Leadership; and recognition by the University of Chicago as one of its outstanding graduates. She was also the recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award, given by the University of Illinois for her contributions to education in the areas of scholarship, teaching, service, and administration. She was a member of the American Council on Education, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and The Links Inc., a volunteer service organization for women of color. [Photo: Office of University Relations]



Linda Upperman Smith

Linda Upperman Smith, daughter of Dr. Leroy Upperman, upholds her father's legacy through her work. Upperman Smith was a former UNCW Board of Trustees member and served as the Interim Director of the Office of Minority Affairs from August 1998 to May 1999. Upperman Smith is a co-founder of the annual "Stompin' At The Savory," fundraiser event, which raises funds for multicultural scholarships at UNCW. Since the fundraiser's inception in 1999, the 11 diversity scholarships supported by this effort currently value over $1.9 million. At the 20th annual Stompin' At The Savory, UNCW honored Linda Upperman Smith for her continued friendship and dedication to diversity within the university community by naming the Linda Upperman Smith Diversity Scholarship endowed gift agreement. In 2018, Upperman Smith was honored by the City of Wilmington's Commission on African American History as a Living Legend. Those selected for this award have shown outstanding leadership with a keen vision to help people succeed in life, professional contributions, and many accomplishments improving our community, making it a better place for all of us to live. Upperman Smith currently serves on the Renewal and Change Accountability Committee.

When asked to share a personal statement for this gallery, Upperman Smith provided the following: "Please remember that those who went before you helped prepare the way for you. Always reach back to help someone else." Click on the media link to learn more about "Stompin' at the Savory," featuring an interview with Linda Upperman Smith. [Photo: Office of University Relations]


Joanne Nottingham & Harry Davis '79

Joanne Nottingham (left) & Harry Davis (right) met in 1995 at UNCW's MLK celebration. They were married in 1997 and were known as a couple that strived to inspire. Nottingham served as Faculty Coordinator of Leadership Studies and Lecturer in the Department of Educational Leadership in the Watson College of Education. The Watson Dean, Van Dempsey, described her as "[a] person who moves through our world with grace and dignity and has a tremendous impact." Nottingham taught her students to treat the study of leadership as a process of self-discovery. Davis served in the Army as a military policeman until an accident at Fort Bragg, NC, left him wheelchair-bound. Rising to the challenge of redefining himself, Davis turned to education—graduating from UNCW with a degree in sociology—and to art, a passion that had been with him since childhood. Through trial and error, Davis became one of the most celebrated African American artists in the country. In the loving presence of his wife, Davis passed away in 2018.

When asked for a quote for this gallery, Joanne replied: "Listen to understand, not to reply. Be nice to someone for no reason because you never know when you'll need someone to be nice to you for no reason." Click the media link to read their We Are UNCW feature. [Photo: Office of University Relations]


Dr. Denis Carter

In 2001, Dr. Denis Carter became the Associate Vice Chancellor for Planning and Academic Outreach. In this role, Dr. Carter developed the first comprehensive transfer agreements for UNCW, which became a statewide model for the UNC System universities and community colleges. In 2003, Chancellor James R. Leutze appointed Dr. Carter to serve as the Chair of the Diversity Initiative Plan. This was after a six-month task force that examined diversity on campus with special emphasis on racial/ethnic diversity as it relates to faculty, students, staff, and outreach activities. The task force shaped much of the framework for the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion today. Dr. Carter has served as a faculty member in the Cameron School of Business, teaching economics. He is also a former director of the Youth Entrepreneurship Program. The Denis G. Carter Scholarship honors Dr. Carter and was initiated by the African American Graduate Association. It is available to incoming first-year students who have expressed an interest in pursuing a major with the Cameron School of Business. [Photo: Office of University Relations]


Dr. Debra Saunders-White

Debra Saunders-White (1957-2016), North Carolina Central University's first female chancellor, lost her battle with cancer in November 2016. From 2006-11, Dr. Saunders-White served as UNCW's Vice Chancellor for Information Technology Systems and as Interim Associate Provost and Chief Diversity Officer in the Office of Institutional Diversity from 2007-08. While at UNCW, her accomplishments included developing a computer literacy program for the Wilmington Housing Authority's Hillcrest neighborhood, improving emergency communications, mobile services, and cost-effective classroom technologies; and co-developing the UNCW Learning Commons, a technology-supported library space for student learning and collaboration. "Deb was an energizing force wherever she worked," said UNCW Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Patricia Leonard. "Her smile, compassion, professionalism, and intelligence affected everyone she met. UNCW, and the UNC system, was lucky to experience her leadership." Click the media link to watch "Celebration Of Life Tribute For Dr. Debra Saunders-White" via UNC-TV. [Photo: Office of University Relations]


Linda Pearce Thomas

A Wilmington native, Pearce Thomas served as the first female African American Chair of the UNCW Board of Trustees during the 2012-2013 academic year. Pearce Thomas earned her Bachelor of Arts from North Carolina College (now North Carolina Central University) and her master's degree from the University of the District of Columbia. Preceding her service as Chair, Pearce served as a board member from 2005 to 2013. Additionally, Pearce Thomas has served as chairman of the MedNorth Board of Directors, as a member of the New Hanover Regional Medical Center Investigative Review Board, the Davis Community Board of Directors, the Wilmington Rotary, and the Mount Olive AME Church Trustee Board, a former member of the NHRMC Board of Trustees, WECT Advisory Committee, NRMC Ethics Committee, Community Boys' and Girls' Club Board of Directors and WAVE Board of Directors. She is a life member of the NAACP.  In 2016, Pearce Thomas was honored by the City of Wilmington's Commission on African American History as a Living Legend. Those selected for this award have shown outstanding leadership with a keen vision to help people succeed in life, professional contributions, as well as many accomplishments improving our community, making it a better place for all of us to live.

When asked to share a personal statement for this gallery, Pearce Thomas provided the following: "Decide what'd you love to do and work hard to prepare yourself. If you don't live up to your own expectations, don't quit, because your passion can take you the remainder of the way to success. If you love what you're doing, nothing can stop you from working hard to succeed, and each setback will become a steppingstone. However, if you do not love what you're doing, you will fold if the going gets tough. Follow your heart, work, and study hard and stop to have some fun along the way." Click the media link to read an interview with Linda Pearce Thomas from the Randall Library Oral History Collection. [Photo: Office of University Relations]


Dr. Earl Sheridan

Dr. Earl Sheridan taught political science at UNCW until his retirement in 2015. From 1992-2000, he served as Chair of the political science department, serving again as Chair in 2013. In addition to his time at UNCW, he served the Wilmington community extensively. Dr. Sheridan was the president of the New Hanover County Branch of the NAACP from 1987 to 1996. He offered his time and service as a member of the 1998 Memorial Foundation, the Board of the Domestic Violence Shelter and Services, and the Commission of African-American History in Wilmington. In 2005, he was elected to serve on the Wilmington City Council, where he served until 2017. In 2018, Sheridan was awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine by Governor Roy Cooper. The Order of the Long Leaf Pine is the highest honor a North Carolina governor can bestow and is awarded to people who have made a significant contribution to the state and their communities. Click the media link to learn more. [Photo: Michael Cline Photography]


Wilma Daniels

Former Chair of the Board of Trustees, Wilma Daniels, stepped into a position of leadership after the sudden death of her husband in 2008. Driven by her love of children and education, Daniels finished out the term her husband committed to. This series of events served as an entry point for Daniels' who went on to serve on the UNCW Board of Trustees' Business Affairs Committee, the Educational Planning and Programs Committee, and the Executive Committee. She was also a member of the Endowment Board as the Immediate Past Chair. She served on the Board of Trustees until 2019.  Click the media link to read her We Are UNCW feature. [Photo: Office of University Relations]


Max Allen

After a long-distinguished career as a United States Navy public affairs officer, Max Allen was seen as a leader within UNCW and throughout the community. For 12 years, he worked alongside three different Chancellors; Special Assistant and Chief of Staff for Chancellor Rosemary DePaolo, Chief of Staff for Chancellor Gary Miller, and Chief of Staff for Interim Chancellor William Sederburg. An experienced higher education leader, Mr. Allen was well respected both on and off-campus, working with a wide variety of university constituents, including faculty, staff, students, donors, alumni, and friends of UNCW. He was also a mentor and role model for many UNCW employees and students. In 2015, Allen was recruited to Clemson University as the Vice President & Chief of Staff, where he currently serves as the chief advisor to President Clements. He is actively engaged with Clemson's executive leadership team in all aspects of university governance and operations. Allen is the first African American to serve in both of these leadership roles.

When asked to share a personal quote for this gallery, Mr. Allen provided the following: "Don't just show kindness in passing or to be courteous. Show it in-depth, show it with passion, and expect nothing in return. Kindness is not just about being nice; it's about recognizing another human being who deserves care and respect." -General Colin Powell [Media Link] [Photo: Office of University Relations]

Kevin Keatts

Kevin Keatts

Kevin Keatts served as the head coach of the men's basketball team from 2014 - 2017. Keatts was named CAA Conference Coach of the Year for two consecutive years after leading the team to the first conference championship in nine years and winning both in 2016 and 2017. In 2017, Keatts left UNCW and currently serves as the head coach of the men's basketball team at NC State. [Photo: Will Page/UNCW]


Maurice Smith '79

Mr. Smith, a resident of Cary, North Carolina, has been a member of the Board of Trustees since 2013. He currently serves as the committee chair of the Educational Planning and Programs Committee. Additionally, he serves as a member of the External Affairs Committee and the Renewal and Change Accountability Committee. Maurice Smith earned his bachelor's degree in Business administration from UNCW before attending law school to pursue his JD. Smith's presence within his local and national community has been far-reaching. His affiliations include Secretary of the Credit Union National Association Board of Directors; Chairman of the Filene Research Institute Administrative Board; Board of Directors of the African American Credit Union Coalition; Board of Directors of the NC League of Municipalities Local Leadership Foundation; member of the District of Columbia and US Supreme Court Bars; member of the NC and American Bar Associations; Certified Superior Court Mediator; Board of Directors of the City of Raleigh Police Memorial Foundation; and Board of Directors of National Cooperative Bank. When asked to share a personal statement for this gallery, Mr. Smith provided the following: "A salute to Black History is a tribute to ordinary citizens who made extraordinary contributions. These are more than stories for the archives. Each account is an encouragement to improve society with our creativity, innovations, and tenacity. History lives on in each of us."


Malcomb Coley '86, '89M

Malcomb Coley grew up in eastern North Carolina. In high school, he pursued an interest in math, which eventually inspired him to seek a degree in accounting at UNCW. Coley earned his bachelor's degree in Accounting from UNCW in 1986 and an MBA in 1989. Influenced by mentors such as Fara Elikai, Denis G. Carter, Ralph Parker, and the late Douglas Johnson—Coley's career blossomed. Coley currently serves as a Managing Partner at Ernst & Young and regularly returns to UNCW to act as a mentor to rising business students.

In 2004, Coley was awarded the Outstanding Cameron School of Business Alumni Award. The Cameron School of Business annually recognizes alumni who have achieved honor and distinction within their professional or personal lives. In 2008, Coley announced a ten-year $250,000 commitment to fund five diversity scholarships in honor of the Cameron School of Business and four of his mentors: Dr. Denis Carter, Dr. Ralph Parker, Lt. Col. James Braye, and the late Douglas Johnson. Click the media link to learn more about Malcomb Coley from his feature in the Fall 2013 UNCW Magazine. [Photo: Office of University Relations]


Ron Hamm '90

When the African American Graduate Association was founded in November 1989, Ron Hamm served as the first president. Hamm earned a bachelor's degree in Finance before pursuing an MBA from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Hamm is President of Hamm Consulting Group, LLC, a Washington, DC-based federal government relations firm.

He currently serves on the Renewal and Change Accountability Committee, though that is far from the extent of Ron's service and participation within the world of higher education. Ron also serves on the UNCW Board of Visitors and remains active in alumni activities. He is a member of the California State University DC Scholars Board, and president of the Joyce Gillespie Harrington Educational and Charitable Foundation of the ZUL Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.  Ron is also a corporate member of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO).

In 2020, Hamm was recognized as an Outstanding Alumni during the Cameron School of Business' Business Week. The UNCW Cameron School of Business (CSB) annually recognizes alumni who have achieved honor and distinction within their professional or personal lives.


Black Lives Matter Banners at UNCW

In June 2020, Black Lives Matter banners were hung around campus in solidarity with the movement. Pictured (starting from the top left): the Cultural Arts Building, Osprey Hall, Morton Hall, Trask Coliseum, Kenan Hall, Hoggard Hall, Bear Hall, Leutze Hall, Friday Hall, DePaolo Hall, Randall Library, DeLoach Hall, McNeill Hall, Center for Marine Science, Teaching Laboratory, Congdon Hall, Watson Hall, Education Building, and Veterans Hall. Click here to read through a compilation of all Black Lives Matter statements issued by university departments.