A Family Legacy

U.S. Sen. Robert Morgan’s grandfather was there when J.A. Campbell started his school in 1887. Today, Morgan honors his family with a scholarship

Story by Billy Liggett

In 1942, Robert Morgan — the man who would go on to become a U.S. senator — wanted to attend his hometown school, Campbell College.

The son of a 1907 Buies Creek Academy graduate, Morgan wound up attending what is now East Carolina, because his family couldn’t afford Campbell. In 2013, at the age of 87, Morgan established a scholarship for future Campbell students so they won’t have to make that same difficult decision in the future.

“I’m very proud of my roots and very proud of Campbell University,” said Morgan, who served as an adjunct professor at Campbell Law School during the late 1970s. “I hope my contribution helps future students who want to go to Campbell. I want to support their education.”

Morgan’s grandfather, W.T. Morgan, is listed in University records as one of the 30 “distinguished citizens” in Buies Creek who helped persuade and supported a Baptist preacher named J.A. Campbell to begin Buies Creek Academy in 1887. In 1942, Morgan enrolled at East Carolina for $300 a year (Campbell, he said, was $500 a semester); but while a student at ECU in the fall of 1943, he was drafted and joined the Navy on his 18th birthday. He was a Naval Academy student in Chapel Hill for over a year, and was on his way to fight in Japan when he learned of the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. After the war ended, he was stationed in San Francisco to help welcome and assist soldiers returning home from the Pacific.

“I wasn’t but 19, and here I was an officer helping bring home these old codgers who’d been over there fighting and fighting and fighting for months to years,” Morgan recalled. “I felt like a little boy compared to these men.”

After graduating from East Carolina, Morgan returned to service in Korea in the early 1950s. His political career began soon after he returned when friends in high places urged him to run for Clerk of Court. He next ran for the North Carolina State Senate and won, becoming the president pro tempore and chairman of several key committees.

He won the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in 1974 and beat Republican William Stevens with 63 percent of the vote to earn the seat that fall. He served until 1980 before losing a close race to Republican John East. He returned to practice law in Lillington the next year and served as director of the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation.

On his walls at Robert Morgan Law Office in downtown Lillington are several photos of the senator with presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter, as well as several high-ranking men from that era. But a point of pride Morgan makes clear is that despite the many places his career has taken him, he’s never lived more than two miles from the farm house in Angier, where he was born in 1925.

“Campbell University … even though I didn’t go there, it’s like my home,” he said. “It’s very much a part of my family.”