| Elizabeth City State University was founded on March 3, 1891 when House Bill 383 of the North Carolina General Assembly established a normal school for the specific purpose of "teaching and training teachers of the colored race to teach in the common schools of North Carolina." The bill was sponsored by Hugh Cale, an African-American representative from Pasquotank County. Between 1891 and 1928, curricula and resources were expanded under the leadership of teacher Peter W. Moore. Enrollment increased from 23 to 355 and the faculty from two to 15 members by the time Dr. Moore retired as President Emeritus on July 1, 1928.
Under the leadership of the second president, John Henry Bias, the institution was elevated from a two-year normal school to a four-year teachers college (1937). The institution's name was officially changed to Elizabeth City Teachers College on March 30, 1939 and the mission was expanded to include training elementary school principals for rural and city schools. The first Bachelor of Science degrees in elementary education were awarded in May of 1939.
Between 1959 and 1963, the number of majors increased from one major, elementary education, to 12 academic majors. The college was granted membership in the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in December 1961 and maintains its accreditation with that body to the present. In 1963, the General Assembly changed the institution's name from Elizabeth City State Teachers College to Elizabeth City State College and on July 1, 1969, the college became Elizabeth City State University. In 1971, the General Assembly redefined the University of North Carolina system with 16 public institutions. Including ECSU, those institutions are constituents of The University of North Carolina (July 1972).
Currently, ECSU offers 36 baccalaureate degree programs and four master's degree programs in Elementary Education, Biology, Mathematics and School Administration. ECSU also offers a doctor of pharmacy degree in collaboration with the Eshelman School of Pharmacy (UNC- Chapel Hill). ECSU has earned national acclaim for its academic advances: In 2007, Diverse Issues in Higher Education ranked ECSU #1 among Historically Black Colleges and Universities for its black male student athlete graduation rate. Between 1999 and 2010, ECSU repeatedly earned national acclaim in U.S. News and World Report Magazine's ranking of best colleges in the south. In 2010, ECSU ranked second in the magazine's category of Best colleges: Top Public Schools: Regional Colleges (South) and 17th among 35 Historically Black Colleges and University's evaluated.
In 2000, ECSU began designing capital improvement projects funded by $46.3 million from the state's Higher Education Bond Referendum. The results were a Physical Education/Field House (2003), University Suites, a residence hall (2004), the Walter N. Henrietta B. Ridley Student Complex (2005). Viking Village, a student residence hall adjacent to the campus main entry, resulted from a university-private partnership (September 2004). In July 2004, the NC General assembly allotted $428 million to construct facilities for the Pharmacy Complex which opened in the fall of 2010.Construction of the Willie and Jacqueline Gilchrist Education and Psychology Complex began in July 2010 and is expected to be completed in December 2011. Construction of a new three-story residence hall began in May 2011 and is expected to be complete in late summer 2012.
Since 2005, ECSU student athletes have earned a respectable collection of championship trophies in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association: the softball and baseball teams (2005); basketball (Vikings 2007); volleyball (Lady Vikings 2008) and bowling (Lady Vikings 2009). ECSU teams also won three CIAA Eastern Division titles: football (Vikings 2006 and 2008); basketball (Lady Vikings 2007); volleyball (Lady Vikings 2007).