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February Twenty-Seven...

Elizabeth "Lizzie" Evelyn Wright - Founder of Voorhees College

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

Virginia State University

Virginia State University was founded on March 6, 1882, when the legislature passed a bill to charter the Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute. The bill was sponsored by Delegate Alfred W. Harris, a Black attorney whose offices were in Petersburg, but lived in and represented Dinwiddie County in the General Assembly.

Fact
The first person to bear the title of president, John Mercer Langston, was a well-known African-American of his day. Until 1992, he was the only African-American elected to the United States Congress from Virginia (elected in 1888); and he was the great-uncle of the famed writer Langston Hughes.

Virginia Union University

Researched by Raymond Hylton, Professor of History

Virginia Union University - History Header

Our mission at Virginia Union University was first put into operation shortly after April 3, 1865, the date when Richmond, Virginia was liberated by troops of the United States Army of the James. It was then that representatives from our founding organization, the American Baptist Home Mission Society, came to the former Confederate capital as teachers and missionaries. In that same month, eleven teachers were holding classes for former slaves at two missions in the city. By November 1865 the Mission Society had established, and was officially holding classes for, Richmond Theological School for Freedmen, one of the four institutions forming the “Union” that gives our University its name. Even though the Civil War had ended and that same year the 13th Amendment to the Constitution officially abolished slavery, many trials still lay ahead. It became more and more certain that freedom would not, of itself, be enough. It could not sufficiently address the problems of a large, newly-emancipated population that had been systematically kept down and denied training skills, opportunities, and even literacy itself. Some slaves had been severely punished for even trying to read the Bible.

Fortunately, there were many who cared, and who would try to impart the education and skills necessary for the full enjoyment of freedom and citizenship, to the newly-freed population. One such group of concerned individuals were the members of the American Baptist Home Mission Society (ABHMS). They proposed a “National Theological Institute” designed primarily at providing education and training for African-Americans to enter into the Baptist ministry; and soon this mission would expand into offering courses and programs at college, high school and even preparatory levels, to both men and women.

In 1865, following the surrender of the Confederacy, branches of the “National Theological Institute” were set up in Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Virginia. The Washington institution received a $1,500 grant from the Freedman’s Bureau and met at various locations including: Judiciary Square; “I” Street; Louisiana Avenue and, finally, Meridian Hill. The school became known as Wayland Seminary; and it acquired a sterling reputation under the direction of its president, Dr. George Mellen Prentiss King. Dr. King administered Wayland for thirty years (1867-97) and stayed on as a professor for twenty additional years at both Wayland and at Virginia Union University. The King Gate which currently faces Lombardy Street and is situated between Ellison Hall and the Baptist Memorial Building was named in his honor shortly before he died in 1917. Among the notable students to grace Wayland’s halls were: Dr. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. the famous pastor of New York’s Abyssinian Baptist Church; Dr. Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskegee University and author of Up From Slavery; Reverend Harvey Johnson of Baltimore, Maryland – pastor and early civil rights activist; Kate Drumgoold, author of A Slave Girl’s Story: Being an account of Kate Drumgoold (1898); Henry Vinton Plummer, Civil War Naval combat hero and U.S. Army Chaplain to the “Buffalo Soldiers”; and Albert L. Cralle, inventor of the ice-cream scoop.

Virginia University of Lynchburg

Virginia Seminary and College was organized in May 1886 during the 19th annual session of the Virginia Baptist State Convention at the First Baptist Church in Lexington, Va. The Rev. P.F. Morris, pastor of Court Street Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., offered the resolution that authorized the establishment of the institution. Just 21 years out of slavery, African American Baptist leaders founded Lynchburg’s oldest institution of higher education for men and women to meet the growing demands of our community for better-educated and trained ministers, missionaries, and public school teachers.

In July 1886, lawyer James H. Hayes of Richmond was appointed to obtain a charter for the school. During the 1888 session of the Virginia Baptist State Convention, the location of the school in Lynchburg, the plans and specifications for the first brick building, the letting of the contract for the erection of the building and the charter were approved. The cornerstone of the first building was laid in July 1888. The school was opened on Jan. 18, 1890, by Professor R. P. Armstead with an enrollment of 33 students.

Voorhees College

Inspiration, determination, imagination, faith. All four have been pillar principles in Voorhees College's century-long history of changing minds and changing lives.

That history started with Elizabeth Evelyn Wright, who at 23 was only a little older than today's Voorhees students when she came to Bamberg County. A native of Georgia, Wright had found her inspiration while studying at Booker T. Washington's famed Tuskegee Institute. She said time at Tuskegee gave her a mission in life: being “the same type of woman as Mr. Washington was of a man." Knowing the importance of education, she moved to Denmark and started the first of several schools in the rural area She survived threats, attacks and arson.

Wright went back to Tuskegee to finish her degree before returning to South Carolina to try again. Undeterred and envisioning a better future for blacks through education, she founded Denmark Industrial School in 1897, modeling it after Tuskegee. New Jersey philanthropist Ralph Voorhees and his wife donated $5,000 to buy the land and build the first building, allowing the school to open in 1902 with Wright as principal. It was the only high school for blacks in the area.

West Virginia State University

Beginning of West Virginia State University

Acts of the Legislature of West Virginia at its Twentieth Regular Session, commencing January 14, 1891.

CHAPTER LXV.

AN ACT accepting the provisions of the act of congress approved August thirtieth, eighteen hundred and ninety, entitled "An act to apply a portion of the proceeds of the public lands to the more complete endowment and support of the colleges for the benefit of agriculture and the mechanic arts, established under the provisions of an act of congress approved July second, eight hundred and sixty-two," and providing for the apportionment of said endowment according to the provisions of said act. [Passed March 4, 1891.]

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