Our America HBCU Experience: Livingstone College is the birthplace of Black College Football

SALISBURY, N.C. (WTVD) -- The 50 yard line at the Birthplace of Black College Football is now covered with grass, but its legacy remains on the campus of Livingstone College. A plaque stationed in the front lawn commemorates the first historically Black college football game in 1892, where the Livingstone Blue Bears played against Biddle college, which is now Johnson C. Smith University.

"The game kind of went down to the wire. There was a turnover. Certain persuasions caused people to make decisions that didn't put us in favor and so, it's been an arch rival ever since," said Livingstone College head coach, Sean Gilbert.

The Blue Bears are in their first football season under the leadership of Gilbert, who is a former NFL player for several teams including the Carolina Panthers.

" A coach is more than a coach. He's a mentor, counselor, sometimes father. Not saying that to those who have them, but for guys who don't have them and need the conversation you lend your ear to that," he said.

RELATED: 'Our America: The HBCU Experience' explores Winston-Salem State University

Life on the campus of this private HBCU, about 130 miles west of the Raleigh area, is about much more than a game. The rich history of Livingstone College starts in 1879 where descendants of freed slaves, who were also members of the A.M.E. Zion Church saw education as the key to unlocking opportunities. Built brick by brick, Dodge Hall was the first brick building constructed on campus by students. It showed their commitment to manifesting their dreams. Its founding president Dr. Joseph Charles Price is buried on campus not far from the Walls Center Chapel, where Student Government Association President Justin Wade studies religion and philosophy.

"As a preacher, I'm going to seminary. For the founders of my institution to have been seminarians and wanting to found a seminary, that hits closer to home," said Wade.

The 20 year old Bronx born-Charlotte native is a proud product of the Black church. He is the son of a preacher and was the only Black man in his high school senior class. He desired the Black college experience.

"There is a greater joy and there is a greater appreciation of the material that's being learned when it's taught by people who look like you, sound like you and share in your experience," he said.

Livingstone College has molded him into a leader of sorts. He serves as the 93rd SGA President, a man of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated, and campus minister.

"Students are your most honest audience. You can look at a student in the preaching moment and know, I'm not clicking or, you can look and tell I'm saying what they need to hear. They may not spin on the floor like grandmamma whose gone jump up and spin on the floor, but I've touched that student," said Wade.

RELATED: Elizabeth City State University: Viking Pride is small but mighty

In addition to the more than 20 majors offered here, student life is a significant part of the HBCU experience. Aishia Elaine Buie serves as Ms. Livingstone, one of a few student ambassadors.

"I am from Jacksonville, Florida, and a biology scholar," she said.

The only girl of seven brothers and a first generation college student, Buie is studying to become a surgeon. She is appreciative of the small classroom sizes Livingstone offers with less than one thousand students enrolled on campus. She calls it a key to her success so far.

"I have the opportunity to have bonds. Actual student-teacher bonds with professors like when I feel myself falling, it's not a problem at all to find that help," said Buie.

Her outlet is moving to the rhythm and beat of the Marching Blue Thunder; she is a member of the Blue Elegance Dance Team.

"Dancing is my happy place. Whenever I feel myself being stressed or I know I don't want to aggravate nobody with my problems, I dance," she said. "I've been dancing since my freshmen year. I came to Livingstone with a dancing scholarship."

Across campus a proud alum serves on the very grounds she was a student. Dr. Da'Tarvia Parrish is a self-proclaimed three-time deliberate HBCU graduate. She received her bachelor's from Livingstone College, Master's from North Carolina A & T and Doctorate from Clark Atlanta University.

"We believe in educating the heart, head and hands. Students will be introduced to psychological concepts, social constructs and physical practices that will shape them inside and out," she said. "I just believe in HBCU's. I believe in the foundation it sets for people. I believe in the cultural pride and cultural dignity. It's excellence the Livingstone way!"

She and other staffers have been instrumental in encouraging students to continue pressing forward. As adversity approaches, life lessons are taught here both on and off the field meant to last a lifetime.

"A work ethic is a work ethic. The only way you'll get positive results is if you work," said Coach Gilbert.
Copyright © 2021 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.