Roger Williams University – Nashville, Tenn.-Academic class (1899)
Source: Library of Congress, Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-126752; see here for more details
Fashion Note: Most of the men have their hair parted in the middle; this was a common hair style at the time
After the Civil War, freedmen exhibited an insatiable desire for education. Throughout the South, schools, institutes, colleges, and universities sprang up to provide places of learning for ex-slaves. These institutions might have any of the following:
• an education or “normal” school, to train teachers
• an industrial school, to provide vocational and craft training
• a theological school, to prepare students for the ministry
• an agricultural school, for instruction in farming skills and practices
• an academic school, for learning in the arts and sciences.
The distingushed-looking young people in the photo are from the academic class of Roger Williams University, Nashville, Tennessee, circa 1899. Post-war Nashville was an appropriate for freedmen schools. During the war, the city’s black population went from under 4,000 to over 12,000, mainly as a result of slaves fleeing their masters or the ravages of the war. This count of blacks does not include any number of United States Colored Troops who might have been in the city. (Tennessee provided 20,000 men to the USCT, the third most of any state.) Many of these migrants or soldiers stayed in the city after the war.
Roger Williams University began as a school for Baptist teachers, but it expanded over time. As noted in the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture,
One of four freedmen’s colleges in Nashville, Roger Williams University began as elementary classes for African American Baptist preachers in 1864. Classes were held in the home of Daniel W. Phillips, a white minister and freedmen’s missionary from Massachusetts. By 1865 the classes had moved to the basement of the First Colored Baptist Mission.
In 1866 the “Baptist College” was officially named the Nashville Normal and Theological Institute under the auspices of New York’s American Baptist Home Mission Society (ABHMS). A year later, the school moved from old Union army barracks on Cedar and Spruce streets to a two-story frame building at Park and Polk Streets..
Soon after granting its first bachelor’s degree, the Nashville Normal and Theological Institute… started a new campus in 1874-75 (near) Vanderbilt University… African Americans held faculty positions and served on the board of trustees. In 1886 Roger Williams expanded the curriculum to include a master’s degree program.
I’ll talk some more about Roger Williams University in my next post.