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February Eleven...

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visits Fort Valley State College, 1966. Pictured standing next to President Troup (middle).

Topics: African Americans, Civil Rights, Education, Human Rights, Women's Rights

Fort Valley State University

Since 1895, Fort Valley State University has empowered people to use education as a pathway to maximize their potential through invention, intellectual fulfillment, civic leadership, and meaningful careers. It was founded 122 years ago as a bridge to prosperity for the first generations of free black men and women in America and has a continuing legacy of producing leaders in a broad range of fields critical to human advancement. FVSU’s legacy is built on the belief that every human being is entitled to limitless learning, regardless of the circumstances of its birth. As expressed in its first academic catalog as a college, the institution exists to give students “a better chance in life” and help uplift people, “wherever the college can, through its graduates.”

The chains of physical slavery were broken in the United States by the Civil War, but the chains of mental slavery could only be broken through education. On November 6, 1895, an interracial group of 15 black men— at least half of whom were former slaves— and three white men, petitioned the Superior Court of Houston County, GA to legalize the creation of a school to “promote the cause of mental and manual education in the state of Georgia,” and the Fort Valley High and Industrial School was born. The group’s leader, John Wesley Davison, himself a child slave, was hired as its first principal after its incorporation on January 6, 1896. The school’s popularity was overwhelming, and enrollment pushed the boundaries of its capacity. FVSU is one of few colleges founded by former slaves, including founders Davison, Virgil Gideon Barnett, Peter Fann, Henry Lowman, Thomas McAfee, James Isaac Miller, Charlie H. Nixon, and Thomas W. Williams, who bonded with founders Stephen Elisha Bassett, Allen Cooper, Francis W. Gano, John Howard Hale, David Jones, J.R. Jones, D.L. Lawrence, Alonzo L. Nixon, and Lee O’Neal to create an enduring testament to the power of knowledge to overcome fear and mistrust.

The two original instructors, Principal Davison and his wife Hattie, were undaunted, however, as were the students, who built many of the campus’s original buildings with their own hands, including Founders, Carnegie, Peabody, Patton, and Ohio Halls, as well as infirmary. Much of the funding for the school came from its neighbors, uneducated African Americans who sacrificed their own meager finances to make possible the education of others. The institution’s first goal was to enable the proliferation of education to the masses, and set about training teachers who could then spread knowledge. Teachers were not the only professionals the institution produced, however. One of the first graduates of the young school was Austin Thomas Walden, who graduated in 1902 and became Georgia’s first black judge since Reconstruction.

Gadsden State Community College

Gadsden State Technical Institute began in 1960 as Gadsden Vocational Trade School, a private vocational training school for African Americans. It was founded by Eugene N. Prater, director of the Veterans General Continuation Program for Negroes, in response to discontent expressed by black veterans of Etowah County for being denied admission to the all-white Alabama School of Trades. The new school was approved by the Veterans Administration for training under the G.I. Bill and began to enroll black veterans. By August 1961, enrollment was at 71, and course offerings included auto mechanics and repair, plastering and cement finishing, brick masonry, woodworking, dry cleaning and laundry, general business, and tailoring. The school was identified as part of the state's network of vocational/technical schools and appointed Prater as the director. In 1962, the state of Alabama assumed ownership of the school, and in 1972, it was renamed Gadsden State Technical Institute. The U.S. Department of Education designated this institution as a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) in 1997. The facility now serves as the Valley Street Campus of Gadsden State.

Gadsden State Community College is a public, open door, comprehensive community college under the control of the Alabama Community College System Board of Trustees (ACCS BOT). Comprised of six campuses/centers, present-day Gadsden State began with the merger of Alabama Technical College, Gadsden State Technical Institute, and Gadsden State Junior College on February 28, 1985 to eliminate duplication of courses and to better serve students. Gadsden State has since expanded with the consolidation of the former Harry M. Ayers State Technical College in 2003 and the establishment of additional centers in Anniston and Centre. The college also offers instruction at St. Clair Correctional Facility. Gadsden State is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award associate degrees.

Present-day Gadsden State enrolls approximately 7,000 students on its six campuses. Gadsden State currently offers the associate in arts/science degrees, as well as certificate programs in a variety of career-technical education programs. Gadsden State was the first community college in Alabama with a gross anatomy laboratory, is one of 14 community colleges nationwide to have an aquaculture program, and was among the first to institute an Honors Scholar Program. The International Program has welcomed students from more than 50 countries since its inception in 1968.

Grambling State University

Grambling State University opened on November 1, 1901 as the Colored Industrial and Agricultural School. It was founded by the North Louisiana Colored Agriculture Relief Association, organized in 1896 by a group of African-American farmers who wanted to organize and operate a school for African Americans in their region of the state.

In response to the Association’s request for assistance, Tuskegee Institute’s Booker T. Washington sent Charles P. Adams to help the group organize an industrial school. Adams became its founding president.

In 1905, the school moved to its present location and was renamed the North Louisiana Agricultural and Industrial School. By 1928, after becoming a state junior college and being renamed the Louisiana Negro Normal and Industrial Institute, the school began to award two-year professional certificates and diplomas. In 1936, the curriculum emphasis shifted to rural teacher education; students were able to receive professional teaching certificates after completing a third academic year. The first baccalaureate degree was awarded in 1944, in elementary education.

In 1946, the school became Grambling College, named after P.G. Grambling, the white sawmill owner who had donated the parcel of land where the school was constructed. In addition to elementary educators, Grambling prepared secondary teachers and added curricula in sciences, liberal arts and business, transforming the college from a single purpose institution of teacher education into a multipurpose college. In 1949, the college earned its first accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

In 1974, the addition of graduate programs in early childhood and elementary education gave the school a new status and a new name – Grambling State University. The university expanded and prospered between 1977 and 2000. Several new academic programs were incorporated and new facilities were added to the 384-acre campus, including a business and computer science building, school of nursing, student services building, stadium, stadium support facility and an intramural sports center.

Hampton University

Other universities simply teach history. Hampton University puts you right in the middle of it. Because, as you'll soon discover, you're not just a part of Hampton University - Hampton University is a part of you.

While our roots reach deep into the history of this nation and the African-American experience, our sights – like yours – are set squarely on the horizons of the global community of the 21st century.

Rich in history, steeped in tradition, Hampton University is a dynamic, progressive institution of higher education, providing a broad range of technical, liberal arts, and graduate degree programs. In addition to being one of the top historically black universities in the world, Hampton University is a tightly-knit community of learners and educators, representing 49 states and 35 territories and nations.

Under a Simple Oak Tree
The year was 1861. The American Civil War had shortly begun and the Union Army held control of Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. In May of that year, Union Major General Benjamin Butler decreed that any escaping slaves reaching Union lines would be considered "contraband of war" and would not be returned to bondage. This resulted in waves of enslaved people rushing to the fort in search of freedom. A camp to house the newly freed slaves was built several miles outside the protective walls of Fort Monroe. It was named "The Grand Contraband Camp" and functioned as the United States' first self-contained African American community.

In order to provide the masses of refugees some kind of education, Mary Peake, a free Negro, was asked to teach, even though an 1831 Virginia law forbid the education of slaves, free blacks and mulattos. She held her first class, which consisted of about twenty students, on September 17, 1861 under a simple oak tree. This tree would later be known as the Emancipation Oak and would become the site of the first Southern reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Today, the Emancipation Oak still stands on the Hampton University campus as a lasting symbol of the promise of education for all, even in the face of adversity.
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