Skip to main content

Fisk University


Historical Note

Fisk University was founded when American Missionary Association field agent Erastus Milo Cravath and John Ogden of the Western Freedmen's Aid Commission (WFAC) secured Union barracks in Nashville and money to be used for a school for freedmen from Freedmen's Bureau Commissioner Clinton B. Fisk. The school opened in 1866 with an attendance of about one thousand children, and was formally chartered the following year. After the WFAC disbanded, it transferred its interest in Fisk to the AMA.

Adam K. Spence succeeded John Ogden as dean in 1870. In 1871, University Treasurer George L. White organized the Fisk Jubilee Singers in order to raise capital for the expansion of the school. Between 1871 and 1875, the troupe earned about $40,000 in New England and $110,000 in Europe.

E. M. Cravath was installed as president in 1875 and served until 1901. The decades of the 1870s-1890s saw considerable growth of the school. Jubliee Hall was constructed on the site of a new campus in 1876. Livingstone Missionary Hall was opened in 1882, and a gymnasium and manual training shop opened in 1888. The 1890s saw the construction of Theological Hall (1891), Fisk Memorial Chapel (1892), and an elementary teacher training school in 1895. An Andrew Carnegie library later opened in 1908.

Fayette Avery McKenzie was appointed president in 1901. He was removed from the presidency as a result of pressure by W.E.B. Du Bois and others in 1925. Thomas Elsa Jones succeeded McKenize as president. Under his leadership, Fisk became the first predominantly African American university to be accredited with an "A" rating from the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.

The decades of the 1930s and 1940s again saw growth of Fisk, with the Erastus Milo Cravath Memorial Library opening in 1930 and a chemistry building following the next year. Fisk's annual Festivals of Music and Art also began in 1930. The International Student Center was completed in 1945, and the Alfred Steiglitz Collection of Modern Art opened in the Carl Van Vechten Gallery of Fine Arts in 1949.

Charles S. Johnson, head of Fisk's social sciences department since 1928, became director of the AMA's Race Relations Division at Fisk in 1944. He later became the first African American president of the school. Noted Harlem Renaissance writer Arna Bontemps served as university librarian for 22 years beginning in 1943.

A Basic College Program was begun under President Johnson, and Fisk began to emphasize its Master's programs in 1951. The school became the first historically black school to be chartered for a chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa honorary fraternity the following year. New dormitories for women and men were built in 1962 and 1966, respectively. Noted chemical physicist James R. Lawson became president of Fisk in 1968 and served during a period of student unrest during the last two years of the decade. The 1970s saw a period of budgetary cutbacks. Vice President Rutherford H. Adkins assumed the position of Acting President due to the illness of James R. Lawson.


American Missionary Association archives 1969 addendum

Found in 6 Collections and/or Records:

American Missionary Association archives addenda

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: 001-1
Scope and Contents The 1969 addendum and later addenda to the American Missionary Association archives are mostly twentieth century in scope, covering two main subject areas. The first is the association's numerous schools. These are considered "field" records, or, the fruits of the Association's missionary work outside of its New York City office. The Addendum is divided into three series: Series 1 covers field-related work, mainly the AMA schools; Series 2 covers projects that were run directly form the New...
Dates: Created: 1849-1991; Other: Date acquired: 03/31/1969

Joseph Geddes Family papers

Identifier: 159
Scope and Contents The Joseph Geddes Family papers pertain to several generations of an African American family with multi-generational ties to Louisiana who owned and operated several businesses, including funeral parlors and life insurance companies that date back to the early 20th century. The papers consist of professional, as well as personal, papers and contain photographs, scrapbooks, memory books, a memorial record book, correspondence, programs, and newspaper clippings relating to the family...
Dates: Created: 1928-1957; Other: Majority of material found in 1953-1955; Other: Date acquired: 02/01/1981

Mabel Robinson Love papers

Identifier: 232
Content Description This collection contains a photograph is of Mabel Love, who was a national officer of the Delta Sigma Theta, and members of three New Orleans chapters, namely Alpha Eta Sigma, Beta Gamma chapter of Dillard University, and the Gamma Alpha chapter of Xavier University. Persons identified by Jessie C. Dent include: Vera Baranco, Elise Rousseve, Naomi Evans, Thelma Johnson Mitchell, Adeline Lewis, Jessie Dent, Estelle Baranco Turpin, Emma Adams, Vivan Osborne Marsh, Sylvia Labat, Lydia Davis,...
Dates: Other: 1940s

Alrutheus Ambush Taylor manuscript

Identifier: 359
Content Description

Typescript history of Fisk University entitled Fisk University, 1866-1951: A Constructive Influence in American Life. Chapter titles are: The Beginnings of Fisk University; The Original Jubilee Singers; The Formative Period; The Middle Period; and The Recent Period. Collection also includes an obituary of Dr. Taylor written by Charles. S. Johnson.

Dates: Other: 1952

Lillian W. Voorhees papers

Identifier: 375
Scope and Contents The Lillian Welch Voorhees papers consist of 21.7 linear feet of items typical of the life of a 20th century educator. The collection also reflects Voorhees's literary and theatrical interests with examples of her own writings, as well as those of her students. Correspondence, 1900-1973 (ca. 8450 items), comprises the largest part of Voorhees's papers. Her literary efforts, 1907-71, are another large section. These include bibliographies; articles; a fragmentary autobiography and...
Dates: Created: 1892-1973; Other: Date acquired: 01/01/1970