William Henry Fort, Jr.’s Fisk University scrapbook documents Fort’s time at the university during the 1920s, less than a decade before Fisk became the first African American institution to gain accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
The portions of the scrapbook on display highlight the contributions of Fisk University, especially the historically significant role that the university played during a time of great social upheaval in the South.
|Fisk University students pose for this 1928 photo. Ambrose A. Bennett Family Papers, 1918-1996, TSLA|
From the establishment of the first school for free African Americans in 1833, and well beyond the opening of the Fisk School in 1866, circumstances surrounding African-American education in Nashville were volatile. Many teachers were threatened, run out of town, or dealt with in a violent manner. Students frequently confronted violence on their way to and from school. Some African-American schools were burned to the ground or simply closed by local officials.
The establishment of one educational institution that would contribute significantly to this “natural emancipation” was made possible, in great part, by three men: John Ogden, Erastus M. Cravath and Edward P. Smith. These three Northerners, among others, recognized the need for the creation of a formal education system for African Americans. Though encountering numerous obstacles along the way, Ogden, Cravath and Smith eventually acquired the former Union hospital land within the city of Nashville. This spot included approximately twenty buildings and was situated in a prime location near the African-American community. Through the efforts of these three men, and with the assistance of others, the doors of Fisk School first opened on January 9, 1866.
Fisk’s notable alumni range from poets and novelists to politicians and activists. The dedication by students seen when Fisk first opened its doors has continued on through the years. The leadership required to succeed at Fisk helped produce many notable students. W.E. B. Du Bois, civil rights activist and author, graduated from Fisk in 1888, and later furthered his education at Harvard University. Du Bois was the first African-American male awarded a Ph.D. from Harvard. John Hope Franklin, historian and educator, also graduated from Fisk and was awarded a Ph.D. from Harvard. Another notable alumnus is the well-known poet Nikki Giovanni, who graduated from Fisk in 1967 and also attended the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University.
Included in the scrapbook are photographs of various campus buildings, numerous students and significant figures at Fisk, including a photograph of Langston Hughes and a photograph of past Fisk president, Thomas E. Jones.
Be sure to check out this amazing collection here!
The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.