For more than 150 years, millions of Lebanese have been emigrating from Lebanon to create successful diaspora communities around the world. Yet there has never been a center outside Lebanon devoted to learning their stories.
An $8.1 million gift from Dr. Moise A. Khayrallah and his wife, Vera Khayrallah, will change that.
With the support of the Khayrallahs — who moved to the Triangle from their native Lebanon in 1983 — NC State will soon be home to the Moise A. Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies, a thriving international hub for research into Lebanese immigration and migration more broadly.
Housed within the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHASS), this will be the first privately endowed center at NC State. It follows the creation in 2010 of the university’s Khayrallah Program for Lebanese-American Studies, which sought to preserve and publicize the history of the Lebanese community in North Carolina.
“We felt it was critical to show how this one community established itself here in North Carolina and then contributed to local commerce, education and success,” said Moise Khayrallah, who has founded several drug-development companies in the area. “And that was a very, very successful program, I have to say.”
Dr. Akram Khater, professor of history at NC State, serves as the program’s director. Like the Khayrallahs, he first came to the United States from Lebanon to further his education. Years later, he and Dr. Khayrallah met over coffee to draw up a public history project.
“We were discussing how, after 9/11, the prevailing narrative about Arab-Americans — including the Lebanese — became focused on terrorism or tabouleh, violence or salad,” said Khater. “Conspicuously absent was any sustained mention of the richness of the culture, of the heritage and of the myriad contributions of Lebanese-Americans to America for over a century and a half.”
Funding from the Khayrallahs and the resources of a vibrant public history program in CHASS have enabled Khater and other NC State researchers to spotlight those contributions. Lebanese-Americans in North Carolina have generated an estimated $4.5 billion of revenue. Among the 16,000 people who make up the community today are the Georges of Hickory, whose legacy includes Lowes Foods, and the Koury family, who own the Greensboro convention center of the same name.
By retracing the steps and recording the stories of Lebanese immigrants to the state, Khater and graduate students in the department of history unearthed enough material to sustain an online archive, a PBS documentary, a K-12 curriculum and a multimedia museum exhibit, Cedars in the Pines.
“As I saw him and his team at the Department of History and other departments at NC State come together and bring all of these programs and activities to life, I was very impressed,” said Moise Khayrallah.
The Khayrallahs’ gift will allow NC State to build on these successes through the creation of the Khayrallah Center, a groundbreaking international institution that Khater will helm. A home for scholars and students from around the world, it will establish NC State as the premier research and outreach site for the Lebanese diaspora. At another level, the center will allow NC State to engage in vital national and international debates about immigration and its global impacts.
“Creating the first endowed center at NC State is a real signature landmark for us,” said Dean Jeffery P. Braden of CHASS, noting that this is the largest gift in the college’s history. He added that the center’s mission — deepening the American public’s understanding of migration — makes it a perfect fit for NC State.
“Part of it is our land-grant tradition,” said Braden. “Part of it is our ‘Think and Do’ culture. But we really have the structure of bringing our disciplinary knowledge and the scholarship that we do out of the university, out of the academy, and bringing it into the community.”
For the Khayrallahs, that kind of outreach is key to revealing the contribution of immigrants to American life.
“We all have so much in common, but a lot of times people don’t even notice those commonalities,” said Vera Khayrallah. “But we are all one people, and we all went through the same things to bring us here.”