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Fisk University

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Fisk University began as Fisk Free Colored School, one of several schools founded for freedmen during the Union military occupation of Nashville.

In October of 1865, the American Missionary Association, the Western Freedmen's Aid Commission, and the U. S. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands opened the school to help fulfill the educational needs of freed slaves.

In December of 186S, General Clinton Bowen Fisk, head of the Kentucky-Tennessee Freedmen's Bureau, secured housing for the school in several old Union army hospital buildings between Church and Cedar (Charlotte) streets near Shaftesbury Avenue and the Union army's contraband camp.

On Jan. 9, 1866, the school's founders and Gov. William G. Brownlow participated in dedication ceremony for the institution. The principal founders and organizers included John Ogden and Erastus Cravath and black businessmen Nelson Walker and Richard Harris. Like Ogden, Walker was a leading member of the local Republican party.

With the reopening of the Nashville public schools in the fall of 1867, the institution was chartered as Fisk University on August 22. As a college, Fisk needed new quarters. In 1871, the surplus Union Fort Gillem was purchased. A student choir under the leadership of Professor George L. White was organized (1867) and began touring the nation in 1871 to raise building funds. The Jubilee Singers raised over $50,000 for the construction of Jubilee Hall at Salem (Eighteenth Avenue, North) and Jefferson streets. In January of 1876, Fisk University dedicated its new campus. Under its first president, Erastus Cravath, some 130 of Fisk's students and graduates became teachers in black schools. The physical plant continued to expand and by the 1890s Fisk's curriculum had expanded to include liberal arts, theology, teacher training, and a secondary school.

At the turn of the century, with the arrival of a second generation of freed blacks, the school bea undergo changes as black expectations began to rise. Demands were made for more blacks on the faculty and in administration. In June of 1911, there was a black protest because President George Gates dismissed six of twelve black teachers for financial reasons. In 1924-25, a student strike forced President Fayette A. McKenzie to resign under a cloud of charges of racism and oppression. In 1947, Charles S. Johnson became the first black to head Fisk University.

During the 1960s, the civil rights movement radicalized the student body, causing support from white donors to diminish. Facing increasing financial burdens, Fisk unwisely dipped into its $15 million endowment. Nineteen eighty-three found the school with a greatly diminished endowment and serious debts, but also undergirded with determination to carry on. --Reavis L. Mitchell and Haywood Farrar

Information and photo generously provided by The Local Conference On Afro-American Culture At Tennessee State University

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