1881 – 1912
UT’s First Black Students
After their election in 1880, three Black representatives in the Tennessee Legislature as well as two white representatives wrote UT President Thomas Humes indicating their intention to appoint, for the 1881-82 session, Black students to receive state scholarships at UT. The legislative act of 1869 which granted the Morrill Act funds to UT required that “no citizen…otherwise qualified shall be excluded from the privileges of said university by reason of his race or color; provided, that it shall be the duty of the trustees ...to make such provision as may be necessary for the separate accommodation or instruction of any persons of color who may be entitled to admission.” In 1870, the Tennessee Constitution prohibited white and Black children to be received in the same school, but added that the provision “shall not prevent the legislature from carrying into effect any laws that have been passed in favor of the colleges, universities, or academies.” The UT trustees contracted with Fisk University in Nashville to enroll Black scholarship students, with UT paying Fisk tuition of $30 per session. In 1881-82, 10 Black students enrolled at Fisk. In 1884, the contract was changed from Fisk University to Knoxville College, with the 14 students already attending Fisk able to finish there if they chose. In 1890, a new contract was negotiated with Knoxville College because of federal passage of the second Morrill Act. This act provided an additional federal subsidy for land-grant colleges of $15,000, rising to $20,000 after five years, and contained a provision that no money would be paid to colleges in which “a distinction of race or color is made in the admission of students.” The new contract with Knoxville College created the “Industrial Department of the University of Tennessee” with Knoxville College providing the buildings and grounds, and UT providing teachers, apparatus, tools, machinery, and all other equipment necessary for an industrial college. Students felled the lumber, made the bricks, and erected the two-story Industrial Department building. The UT trustees agreed to provide an equitable share of the 1862 and 1890 federal land grant funds. Students in the Industrial Department received free tuition for subjects they took in the Knoxville College program, and regular Knoxville College students took classes for free in the Industrial Department. UT paid $2,800 a year for two professors, a foreman, student labor, and other sums periodically for equipment, with the funds required to be spent in the Industrial Department. UT paid Knoxville College $4,000 in 1901; $5,000 in 1902; and $6,000 in 1903. The arrangement continued and grew to incorporate agriculture and nursing. However, the president of Knoxville College and other Black leaders expressed dissatisfaction with the funding arrangement, argued in government for the creation of a separate Black agricultural and mechanical college as the only equitable solution, and raised money for the cause. Their demand was met in 1912 when the Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial Normal School for Negroes (now Tennessee State) opened in Nashville. The new school, designated as the second of Tennessee’s land-grant universities under the second Morrill Act, aimed to train Blacks in the agricultural and mechanical arts and for teaching positions in the public schools.