James Benson Dudley was born a slave on November 2, 1859 in Wilmington, North Carolina. He attended his hometown Missionary School and later an experimental school for African American youth in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Dudley graduated from Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was also awarded a first grade teacher’s certificate from Sampson County, North Carolina. In addition to being a teacher, he was principal of the Peabody School in Wilmington for approximately fifteen years, served as editor of the Wilmington Chronicle and was active in politics.
Dr. Dudley was first appointed a member of the A and M College Board of Trustees by the legislature in 1895. He was then elected the Board’s secretary in May of the same year and on May 1896 was named president of the college. The college’s prestige, however, was declining as a result of internal and external conflicts; therefore, Dudley’s first task as president was to bring cohesiveness to the college family and to champion its cause throughout the state. As a result of hard work and much vigor by Dudley, the college grew and developed from fifty-eight students who lived in one brick dormitory to four hundred seventy-six students in regular session and five hundred students in summer session. By 1925, there was an increase in the physical plant from the one classroom building where eight teachers taught to thirteen buildings. Three of the buildings, Noble, Morrison, and Murphy Halls, are used today. The value of the college went from fifty thousand dollars in 1896 to over one million dollars and seventy-four more acres were purchased to add to the college’s twenty six acres. By 1904, the college owned a one hundred acre farm that was equipped with labor saving farm machinery and devices.
Susie Wright Sampson Dudley, wife of Dr. Dudley, is credited with writing the words to the A&T Alma Mater. On Saturday, April 4, 1925 after serving the college for twenty-nine years, James B. Dudley passed quietly at his home, the Magnolias, located on Dudley Street. The street was named in honor of him by the city of Greensboro, and a holiday "Dudley Day" began around 1927. A faculty member asked to describe Dr. Dudley said that he was a “lover of students, a great leader and a grand teacher”.
SPECIAL COLLECTIONS AVAILABLE: James B. Dudley Collections, Box 0001, 0002; James B. Dudley Photo Collections Box 001; Susie B. Dudley Collections Box 0001 - 0002.