Black News and News Makers in History: Alcorn State University, Mississippi

In 1830, Dr. Jeremiah Chamberlain founded Oakland College, an "Institution of Higher Learning under the care of the Mississippi Presbytery." He envisioned an institution that would serve 300,000 in the Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas area. He teams with several counties and parishes and, while they were searching for a permanent location, the school opened to three students.

After acquiring nearly 250 acres and more than $100,000 (half being in "permanent funds") for the establishment of Oakland College, in 1840, Dr. Chamberlain wrote of his progress:  Already built were separate houses for the president, a professor, and a steward along with fifteen cottages for students (equipped to house six to eight students each). The main building, planned to be three stories, was started by that time.

With the death of Dr. Chamberlain in 1851, the plans for the college were at a standstill. With the Civil War, the college appeared to be at an end.

In 1871, the State purchased the buildings for $42,000 to establish a school for African Americans.  Oakland College was reorganized as Chamberlain-Hunt Academy and relocated. Later it was named after the 28th governor of Mississippi, James Alcorn, who first recommended Oakland College be acquired to establish a school for training African American teachers. Hiram Revels, first African American to be elected to the U.S. Senate, was selected to be Alcorn's first president. Revels created an agricultural department and the college name was changed once again. As Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College, in 1878, it became the first land grant college for African Americans in the United States.

AlcornBlack historic news -  Oakland Chapel Mississippi became the first college to award degrees to African American and White students. It continues as one of Mississippi's three land grant institutions and was awarded university status in 1974.

The Oakland Chapel was built in 1838 by the Presbyterian Church under the direction of Dr. Chamberlain. It was completed in 1851. It functioned as the chapel and as the recitation and library rooms. There was also room for "philosophical and chemical apparatus, and an observatory in the cupola." Note this sharing of space actually united religious and academic activities under one roof. In 1956, the State of Mississippi restored the chapel during the administration of Governor James P. Coleman (1956-1960.)

The Chapel is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is considered one of the finest examples of Greek Revival-style architecture remaining in Mississippi. It did have some non-Greek Revival aspects to its structure to accommodate more classroom space and donated pieces (like the cast iron stairs and different panels.) The steeple is more like the Gothic architectural style. On May 11, 1976, the Alcorn University Campus Oakland Memorial chapel, built in 1838, was designated a National Historic Landmark by the Department of Interior. It is the oldest building on the Mississippi University's campus and symbolizes the importance of Alcorn as the first Black land grant college in the United States.

Excerpts taken from nostalgiaville.com.


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Black News and News Makers in History

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