While moving forward, Fayetteville State University is looking back.

In conjunction with the college's 150th anniversary, the traveling exhibit "1867: Deeds Not Words: The Origins of Fayetteville State University" has opened at the Museum of the Cape Fear. It is part of the museum's Black History Month events.

"Hopefully, this is just a sample to whet some appetites," said Kelli Cardenas Walsh, an associate professor of history at Fayetteville State and one of the curators of the exhibition. "We wanted to open it to the broader community. I understand there are those who are not familiar with our history. I think we have the most exciting history of any school in the UNC system. I think it's something we should know."

Nicholle Young, who works in the Archives and Special Collections at the Charles W. Chesnutt Library at Fayetteville State University, also is a curator of the exhibit.

The educational exhibit tells the story of the university's founding through a timeline, photographs and panels. Part of that story is the seven African-American men who had the foresight to take matters into their own hands and establish a school to provide education for the black youth of the community, just a few years after the Civil War.

The seven men — David A. Bryant, Nelson Carter, Andrew J. Chesnutt (often written as Chestnut or Chestnutt), George Grange Sr. (Granger or Grainger), Matthew Leary Jr., Thomas Lomax and Robert Simmons — paid $136 for two lots on Gillespie Street. As the school developed, the men would be appointed the board of trustees to maintain the property.

The deed the founders signed was registered on Nov. 29, 1867, which is now recognized as the official date of the beginning of Fayetteville State University. The Howard School would open two years later, described in its day as "a large commodious building" erected at a cost of $3,800.

The Howard School evolved into the state’s first school for black teachers. Nearly a century later, it became part of the University of North Carolina system. And today, the 140-acre campus along Murchison Road has 45 buildings and about 6,300 students.

"Really, the exhibit is about what was going on in 1867 in the community," Dwight Smith said. Along with each of the founders, panels are devoted to such areas as reconstruction, religion, the economy, politics, music and art of that time in history.

Smith, another one of the exhibit's curators, is an assistant professor of visual art and director of the Rosenthal Gallery on the FSU campus. Before going on exhibit at the Museum of the Cape Fear, the display could be seen in the Rosenthal Gallery.

"It's really interesting to see where the school began and where we are now," he said. "I think if people tour the campus, they'll see the changes."

Staff writer Michael Futch can be reached at mfutch@fayobserver.com or 486-3529.