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:
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.