Six to Receive Inaugural Shepard Medallion Honor

Six people with ties to North Carolina Central University will be recipients of a newly created honor, called the Shepard Medallion, as part of the university’s 100th anniversary.

The six are:

Julius Chambers, an NCCU alumnus, legal champion for civil rights and Chancellor Emeritus; H.M. “Mickey” Michaux Jr., an NCCU alumnus whose long career as a member of the state House of Representatives has focused on the fight for higher education, particularly for minority students; Mattie Sharpless, an NCCU alumna, former U.S. ambassador and longtime foreign agricultural envoy; LeRoy Walker, chancellor emeritus and past NCCU and Olympic track coach, and the first black president of the U.S. Olympic Committee; Peggy Ward, an alumna, former NCCU trustee and award-winning agent for a national life insurance company, and NCCU Chancellor emeritus Albert N. Whiting.

Five of the six are scheduled to receive the specially designed bronze medallions at the university’s Centennial Gala on May 22 at the Durham Performing Arts Center. Whiting’s travel plans from his home in Maryland were uncertain on Tuesday. Nominees for the Shepard Medallion were solicited from the campus and nationally. From that pool, a campus committee recommended a handful of finalists to NCCU Chancellor Charlie Nelms, who picked the honorees.

Nelms commissioned the medal to recognize people, associated with the university, who have made significant contributions to the school, to their communities or to their professions. The contributions must be in keeping with the public university’s motto, “Truth and Service.”

“Our rather small university has produced more than its share of leaders, in every sphere of endeavor,” Nelms said in announcing the awardees. “We’ve sent legislators to Washington and Raleigh, and scientists to the most prestigious laboratories in the nation. Our faculty and students served in the trenches of the civil rights movement. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of NCCU-trained teachers have educated our school children and college students. These people we honor rise to the top of anyone’s list of exemplars of service and achievement.”

Chambers was NCCU’s chancellor from 1993 to 2001. A 1958 graduate of the school and a president of the student body, he went on to obtain a law degree and fought key civil rights court cases. His Charlotte law firm, the first integrated firm in the state, is credited with influencing more landmark state and federal legislation in school desegregation, employment and voting rights than any other in the United States.

Michaux received his undergraduate and law degrees from NCCU, in 1952 and 1964, respectively. He became the first African-American U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, and first won a seat in the state House of Representatives in 1972. He is considered the dean of the General Assembly, and in recent years, has guided the annual state budget through the chamber. He has tirelessly campaigned for adequate funding for NCCU and other minority universities.

Sharpless received a bachelor’s in business education in 1965 and a master’s in business administration and economics in 1972 from NCCU. She joined the U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service in 1965 and was its acting administrator for much of 2001. Following that position, Sharpless was named U.S. Ambassador to the Central African Republic, where she served until a coup toppled that nation’s government in 2003. With that posting, however, Sharpless became the first woman agricultural attaché to serve as an ambassador. She retired in 2006.

Walker was chancellor from 1983 to 1986, but he was a familiar figure on the NCCU campus. Walker became head track and field coach at NCCU in 1945. He went on to chair the physical education and recreation departments. His track teams at NCCU were legendary, and many of the members competed in the Olympics across the span of decades. He was president of the U.S. Olympic Committee and in 1987 was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.

Ward is a 1974 alumna of NCCU. She is a longtime agent for New York Life Insurance Co., where she has won numerous awards for her service to the company and to her clients. Ward served on the university’s Board of Trustees from 1993 until 1997, and was chairman of the board from 1995 until 1997. She also served on the board of trustees of UNC-TV, part of the University of North Carolina system, and chair of that board’s Advancement Committee.

Whiting was NCCU’s last president and first chancellor. Named president of North Carolina College in 1967, Whiting was chief executive when the university was made part of the UNC system in 1972 and the name of his position changed to chancellor. Under Whiting, NCCU’s School of Business was created and programs in public administration and criminal justice were launched.

The medallion features a likeness of Shepard’s statue in front of NCCU’s administration building and the date of the school’s opening. On its reverse, the phrase “The Shepard Medallion” is written in raised letters. The recipients’ names will be engraved on each.

The May 22 gala is one of the more formal events in NCCU’s yearlong centennial celebration. Dr. James E. Shepard, a pharmacist and academic and business leader, chartered his school in 1909. Then called the National Religious Training School and Chautauqua, the school formally opened its doors to students on July 5, 1910.

Tickets to the gala are $100, and can be purchased online at

The medallion was struck by Recognition Products International, a Maryland company that manufactures the Pulitzer Prize medal as well as the University Award medallion, presented annually by the board of governors of the 17-campus University of North Carolina system for illustrious service to higher education.

Sponsors of the Gala include State Farm Insurance Co., The Forest At Duke and The Freelon Group.