75 years later
How a seminal world event helped shape UNC Charlotte
On June 6, 2019, the 75th anniversary of D-Day, UNC Charlotte honors the family members of alumni, students, faculty and staff who served our country during World War II on the battlefields of Europe and on the broad swath of Omaha Beach, on the islands of the Pacific and on the home front.
More than seven decades after the end of World War II, rich and profound connections persist between Niner Nation and the individuals who served our country, those aptly defined by journalist Tom Brokaw as “The Greatest Generation.”
Not long ago, the campus community shared memories of and stories about family members whose contributions to World War II helped shape the course of world history. Here are just a few of the compelling stories shared with us by faculty, staff, students and alumni:
Herndon Cummings, remembered by granddaughter Jessica James-Hill and her mother, Dr. Navita Cummings James.
FOUNDED TO SERVE
We recognize the singular role of the war’s end in the founding of our institution. With that in mind, we know that we are forever tied to the spirits of the men and women who returned home eager to start the post-war phase of their lives. In particular, we lift up those who took advantage of the G.I. Bill, created to offer veterans unprecedented access to higher education.
Established originally in 1946 as The Charlotte Center, UNC Charlotte takes tremendous pride in its initial purpose: Deliver the promise of the U.S. government to support the educational aspirations of those whose patriotic sacrifice changed the course of world history. For millions of Americans, scores of Charlotteans among them, this presented a life-changing opportunity.
The story of UNC Charlotte’s remarkable beginning—punctuated by the fortitude of our earliest alumni and the intrepid ancestors of those who work and study here today—is captured in Origins of Opportunity. On June 6, 2018, UNC Charlotte’s Pride of Niner Nation Marching Band represented the U.S. in Normandy, France, for the commemoration of the 74th anniversary of D-Day.
QUEEN CITY’S CLOSE TIES TO WWII
During the years spanning World War II, Charlotte—with a population of just over 100,000—was much smaller than the booming city that today is home to nearly a million people.
UNC Charlotte historian Mark Wilson and broadcaster Hattie Leeper share documented knowledge and personal experience of Charlotte at that time.
Charlotte was smaller and quieter during World War II compared with the booming city and region we call home today. Historian Mark Wilson notes that patriotism ran high here, and that the war served as somewhat of a cultural equalizer in the Queen City.
Hattie Leeper, known to her audience as “Chatty Hatty,” began her long career at Charlotte’s WGIV Radio as a teenager in 1946 as the first African-American woman on the air in North Carolina. Here she shares some of her perspective on wartime life within Charlotte’s African-American community.
CHARLOTTE’S VOICE FROM THE HOLOCAUST
UNC Charlotte Professor Emerita Susan Cernyak-Spatz survived the Nazi Holocaust. During much of World War II, she was a prisoner in German concentration camps at Theresienstadt and Auschwitz.
After her liberation, she eventually came to America, raised a family, earned her doctorate, and joined UNC Charlotte’s faculty. To this day, at age 96, she continues to educate audiences on campus and internationally about the horrors of the Holocaust and her commitment to preventing history from repeating itself.
CONTINUING THE MISSION
As UNC Charlotte prepares to begin celebrating its own 75th anniversary as an institution a year from now, we do so as the UNC System’s third-largest university and the largest public institution in the Charlotte area. For the fall 2019 semester, we anticipate welcoming 30,000+ students to our main and Center City campuses—a number that presents a stark difference to the 200 or so who entered The Charlotte Center in 1946.
True to its history and mission, UNC Charlotte—ranked by Military Times as “Best for Vets”—continues to embrace the vision of founder Bonnie Cone to provide opportunities to traditional and nontraditional students of all backgrounds. This is especially true for veterans as they pursue their education and career goals.
Building upon its history of excellent academic programs, the University continues to respond to the needs of the local community and broader world, such as through exciting discoveries that are shaping the future of health care, engineering and artificial intelligence and more.
These are available through 24 doctoral programs, 65 master’s degree programs and 75 bachelor’s degrees, within seven academic colleges. UNC Charlotte boasts nearly 130,000 living alumni and adds approximately 4,500 new alumni each year.