In 1870 it was the disposition of the legislature to create a university for negroes, to be maintained at equal expense with the institution at Oxford. This was discouraged by Governor Alcorn. When it became certain, he suggested that it need not be set apart formally. The popular feeling recognized in the creation of separate schools would be sufficient. “No legal barriers erected unnecessarily in either case, we may allow distinctions of race to run their course in their character of social sentiments; and thus permit an honorable rivalry in intellectual acquirements to grow up amongst the two sets of our population, with free play for its operation in moderating all those forces of repulsion which may be held to originate in prejudice rather than in fact.” The institution was named, in the act of incorporation, May 13, 1871, “Alcorn University of Mississippi.” Fifty thousand dollars was appropriated, annually, for ten years, for its maintenance, and at the same time $50,000 a year was likewise appropriated to the University at Oxford. Governor Powers wrote in January, 1872, that the university “has a name, but is without a local habitation.” The property of Oakland college, in Claiborne county, including ample brick buildings, and 240 acres of land, was purchased for $40,000.
Hiram R. Revels became the first president. The institution was opened for students, February 7, 1872. An agricultural department was added in 1872, to be supported by the State and Congressional fund. (See A. & M. College.)
By act of 1871 three-fifths of the endowment fund was appropriated to Alcorn university.
Revels was removed by Governor Ames in 1874, and about sixty of the students left with him. On account of the condition of the school the legislature of 1875 vacated all the offices and professorships, and authorized the governor to reconstruct the institution. The new president failed to maintain order and when the legislature of 1876 met, the institution was almost a wreck, physically and as a school. Governor Stone appointed a board of trustees and called Revels back to the presidency, “feeling confident that he, above all others, could place the university upon a prosperous footing. The governor spoke hopefully in 1877 of its promise to become a first class university for the negroes of Mississippi. The normal school was its most useful department.
In 1878, it was reorganized and became the Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College. The legislature divided the fund, obtained from the sale of lands granted by Congress, between this college and the State A. & M. College at Starkville. Since 1900 the Morrill fund has been apportioned between the colleges according to the ratio of the two races in the State. This fund has been supplemented by generous appropriations of the legislature. The college commenced with 117 students. In the year 1902-3 there were 534 and a large number of applicants were turned away on account of lack of accommodations. Girls were admitted to the college in 1902 and 500 girls applied immediately.
Governor Lowry wrote in 1884: “There have been but three graduates since the college was founded. The college is practically a normal school for the education of colored teachers, though agriculture is taught with some success, except that few students ever engage seriously in farming.”
In 1882, Prof. J. H. Burrus was made president and while he held office the college was reorganized. He was succeeded after ten years of service by Prof. W. H. Reynolds, who died three months later. The next President was Prof. T. J. Galloway. The president was shot by an assassin in Christmas week, 1897. The secretary and treasurer of the college was charged with the crime and put under arrest. E. H. Triplett was the next head, succeeded in 1899 by W. H. Lanier. The permanent endowment was increased in 1898 by a township of public land, the proceeds of which are a debt of the State. The institution shared in the liberal appropriations of 1900 and 1902 to the amount of $129,000, and several new buildings were erected.
The president in 1905 was L. J. Rowan; trustees – S. P. Bloom, J. T. Savage, E. N. Scudder, James McClure, Garrard Harris, A. A. Kincannon, H. E. Blakeslee, J. G. Spencer, W. H. Hardy, and the State superintendent.
Industrial training is one of the main objects sought to be attained, at this institution. Laboratory, shop and field work are quite as important in the curriculum as lectures. Student labor is required to some extent and extra labor during spare hours is paid for by the hour. There are three main departments; the college course of four years, the preparatory course of two years, and the graded course of three years. The following are the departments of study: English, Latin, mathematics, the industrial departments, including agriculture, carpentry, blacksmithing, shoemaking, printing, painting, nurse training, sewing, domestic science and laundering. The college has three hundred acres of land and 33 buildings. The main buildings are arranged in the form of a horseshoe on the campus. There are beautiful groves and a fine farm. The students have erected the frame buildings and materially assisted in the building of the brick structures.
Belles Letters hall and Adelphic hall are two story brick structures, the chapel and girls dormitory are three story brick buildings. There is another substantial brick dormitory, Academic hall, the laboratory and the President’s house are large frame buildings, and the latest addition to the college is an industrial hall, well arranged for scientific work.
Source: Encyclopedia of Mississippi History, by Dunbar Rowland.