In 2004, the Crown family of Chicago, Ill., established the Sara and E.J. Evans Distinguished Professorship in honor of the late Sara and E.J. Evans of Durham, N.C. The couple served as longtime leaders of civic and Jewish causes in North Carolina.

The professorship was created to support an outstanding professor and scholar in Jewish studies who would enhance the university’s study of Israel and the Middle East. The Crown family’s gift of $666,000 qualified for a matching state grant of $334,000 from the State of North Carolina Distinguished Professors Endowment Trust Fund to create a $1 million endowed professorship.

E.J. Evans, the owner of Evans United Department Stores, graduated from UNC in 1928. He served as mayor of Durham from 1951 to 1963 and played an important leadership role in improving race relations in the city.  Working with groups in the community, he helped Durham desegregate its public accommodations, city agencies and schools. He also gave his time and energy to Jewish affairs, serving at least a decade in roles such as president of the Beth El congregation in Durham, chairman of the statewide Bonds for Israel campaign and president of the statewide United Jewish Appeal.

As a student at UNC, Evans was active in campus affairs and was a member of the basketball and track teams. He later served as president of the university’s General Alumni Association and received the Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1972.

Sara Nachamson Evans was also a leader in the Jewish community locally, regionally and nationally. She served on the national board of Hadassah for more than 45 years and spoke on its behalf across the south.  Her mother, Jennie Nachamson, founded the first Hadassah chapter in the South in 1919.

The Evans’ sons, Eli and Bob, are also UNC alumni. Bob Evans, who was a special assistant to CBS news legend Edward R. Murrow, is a former CBS bureau chief who covered the South from Atlanta and the Soviet Union in Moscow.

Eli Evans, the former president of the Charles H. Revson Foundation in New York City, is an author of three books on Jews in the South and has served on the advisory board for the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies.

“Our family is deeply grateful to our old friends, who now span two generations of the Crown family, for this generous gift that enables our parents’ memory to be associated with Jewish studies at our Dad’s beloved alma mater,” Eli Evans said.

The Crowns are one of America’s most widely respected Jewish families. Lester Crown, chairman of Henry Crown and Company, has served on the boards of the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. He has also been actively involved in the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Federation of Chicago. Susan Crown, president of the Arie and Ida Crown Memorial, is vice president of Henry Crown and Company, founder and board member of The Covenant Foundation and chairman of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. Sara Crown Star, a 1982 UNC graduate, serves as a trustee of the Crown Memorial, governor of the Hebrew Union College Board of Governors and advisory board member of the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies.

“The Sara and E.J Evans Distinguished Professorship honors a 50-year friendship between the Crown family and one of the extraordinary Jewish families in North Carolina history,” said Sara Crown Star, daughter of Susan and Lester. “The Evans’ contributions to the Jewish and civic culture of their city and state, the University and the nation have been legendary. In particular, we are thrilled to be able to honor the passion the Evans family has to support the furtherance of Jewish education at UNC-Chapel Hill.”

(Excerpts taken from an October 2004 UNC news release “Crown family gift helps establish UNC-Chapel Hill professorship honoring Jewish community leaders Sara and E.J. Evans.”)

The Sara and E.J. Evans Distinguished Professor:

Evyatar Marienberg