The Southwest Mississippi Center for Culture and Learning held The History of Oakland College event on Tuesday, January 28th in the J.D. Boyd Library. The event explained the history of what was then Oakland College, but as many know it today as being Alcorn State University (ASU). The foundation of ASU was carved by Oakland College with its’ historic buildings, some of which are still standing and the religious base that is still apart of the Institution.
Rev. Michael Herrin of First Presbyterian Church in Port Gibson, Mississippi was the keynote speaker. His presentation was filled with enthusiasm and surprising facts about the timeline of Oakland College.
In 1829, the Prebyterians met in Baton Rouge, Louisiana to discuss the difficulty of how they would train their youth into the Christian faith. In January of 1830, Chairman Benjamin Chase, found that it was necessary that if they wanted the youth to be raised in the Christian faith then there would have to be a school that would follow their beliefs and accounts. Chairman Chase stated that, “We need an institution of learning now, within our bounds, which when complete shall embrace the usual branches of science and literature taught within the colleges of our country with a preparatory English and a Theological professorship or seminary.” It was decided that the college be established in Claiborne County near the Bethel Prebysterian Church. The school initially opened on May 14, 1830. Later that Summer, $12,000 was given by various donors to help with the construction of several buildings and grounds. Robert Cockren gave 250 acres to form the campus. In December, the school was formally chartered and on January 4th the school moved to what is now Alcorn State. The abundant Oak trees that were present on the ground, gave the Institution its’ name, Oakland College, in 1832.
Oakland College hit an economic plague in the late 1830s. The school was unable to pay any of its’ faculty for three years which led to the Senate taking ownership of the Institution. Not only did the college have a financial downfall but the plague seemed to take over the campus. Not long after, Dr. Jeremiah Chamberlin, founder of Oakland College, was murdered in the hall of his home. This home can still be seen on campus today.
In 1851, the second president took over the college, Robert Leviston Stanton. During Stanton’s duration, Rev. J.R. Hunchingson wrote a description of the college in 1852 stating that, “The college has thirty cottages for students, housing for the president and professors, two halls for the literary society, and a college library with 4,000 volumes, and a main college of brick,” which is the chapel that still stands today. Stanton delivered his farewell address in 1854. He delivered his opinion on what he thought should be changed about the school before he left. One of his problems was accommodations for students and because of it ASU has two historic dormitories on campus today, one being the Honors dorm and the other being Global Programs. After Stanton’s departure the Institution recovered from its’ financial deficit. Funds were raised for five years for the support of the presidency and the tuition fees were to pay the faculty.
In 1861 war broke out, which reduced the number of students to only 22 being left on the roll. The college closed and would not open again until the war ended.
In 1865, the college reopened under the leadership of Reverend Dr. Joseph Calvin, with one Assistant Professor and one student. By the end of 1866, forty students had enrolled and ten had graduated with a Bachelor’s degree. The faculty was impressive with many influential religious professors. The advancement of Oakland College was destined to happen but yet again the college plague befell the campus. Dr. Calvin fell ill and within a week’s time his sickness caused his death at 37-years-old. He died February 17, 1867.
After the death of Dr. Calvin, Oakland College was taken over by George Wilderbush but the college was not able to recover. On June 29, 1871 Wilderbush resigned and returned the college to the Board of Trustees.
On December 8, 1871 the state of Mississippi purchased the grounds for $40,000 and Oakland College became Alcorn University, named after James Lusk Alcorn, a Republican governor and United States Senator of Mississippi.