…Since it seems few know where our school got its awesome mascot name, and I’m a little bit fascinated by Charlotte history, I thought I’d share what I know!
A Brief History Lesson on the UNCC 49ers
AKA Why our school is awesome and you should love it.
Students and athletes at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte are proudly called “The 49ers”… but sadly, few of us know why. I say “sadly” because this near-lost piece of Charlotte history is unique and inspiring, and I personally feel incredibly proud to be a part of a University who embraces the characteristics of the Forty-Niner.
In 1946, the earliest incarnation of UNCC was founded, then called The Charlotte Center of the University of North Carolina. This center was created as part of the G.I. Bill, and was simply a school for returning World War II Veterans, meeting in Central High School at night. Another interesting trivia tidbit is that in these early years, the unofficial mascot of the young school was the owl, in reference to the nighttime classes. It was at Central High School where Charlotte’s savior, Miss Bonnie E. Cone, then a math teacher at the high school who also taught for the center in the evenings. She soon became the director of the Charlotte Center.
However, the Charlotte Center seemed doomed to be short-lived, and was soon set to be shut down. Miss Bonnie insisted that it was still needed, and began working tirelessly to keep the school open. UNCC would not exist today without Miss Bonnie’s incredible spirit, optimism and positivity, which were reflected in her personal motto, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. What I can do, I ought to do, and what I ought to do, by the Grace of God, I will do.” Thanks to her constant fundraising efforts and lobbying, CCUNC became a two-year school, then called Charlotte College in the year 1949.
This date served as the inspiration for our school’s mascot and nickname. The year 1949 reminded Bonnie Cone and her students of a different generation of “forty-niners”… the miners who sought riches during the California Gold Rush in 1849, one hundred years earlier. These men and women suffered great hardships in their search for success, travelling from all over the world, via land and sea, to reach California. Many did not make it, but many who did were rewarded with riches far beyond what they could have made without taking this risk. Bonnie Cone and other early contributors to our University showed a level of tenacity, bravery, and optimism that they felt was reflective of the risks taken—and rewards reaped—by the 19th century 49ers, and chose the mascot for this reason.
Although not officially recognized as a reason for the mascot choice, the decision may also have been influenced by Charlotte’s historical connections to gold. The area is home to both Reed’s Gold Mine, where gold was first discovered in the U.S., and the Charlotte Mint, formerly a producer of U.S. gold coins.
Contrary to popular belief, the university’s current location on Highway 49 is pure convenient coincidence… in fact, the move to our current location along the highway did not occur until 1965.