Last updated on October 3rd, 2014 at 04:39 pm
Dr. Bobby L. Lovett has recently published a definitive, thoroughly researched and documented history of Nashville’s Tennessee State University: A Touch of Greatness: A History of Tennessee State University (America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities).
Long-time history professor turned administrator, Dr. Lovett served as TSU’s Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences for over a decade. His work is a worthy addition to the library of anyone interested in Tennessee education, the story of TSU and/or Nashville’s and the nation’s Black colleges. The book is ideal for anyone wanting to read a story of triumph over severe adversity. It is the story of how the institution raised itself up from an underfunded school for Black teachers in the Jim Crow South to a major doctoral level research institution, along the way fostering the careers of giants in every avenue of human endeavor. The book is an uplifting story, divided by the major leaders who made the school what it is today.
According to Lovett, “the Tennessee General Assembly authorized Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State Normal School for Negroes in 1909 and opened with 250 students and three buildings in 1912. Depending heavily on donations from local Negroes and grants from philanthropic and federal agencies, the school graduated its first class in 1924, built collegiate-level facilities between 1927 and 1934, and achieved university designation in 1951.
“Tennessee A&I felt the oppression of a Jim Crow (de jure racial segregation) society until lawsuits forced the state to respect the separate but equal U.S. Supreme Court decision of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). These lawsuits caused Tennessee to grant out-of-state fellowships for Negroes to enter graduate programs closed to them at the all-White University of Tennessee. In 1941, state officials also promised to make Tennessee A&I State College for Negroes the equivalent to University of Tennessee for White students.
“In 1942, they authorized a graduate school at Tennessee A&I under threat of more NAACP-inspired lawsuits. Another building program began in 1950 and continued through the ‘60s, but state bonds left the institution deeply in debt. State officials backed off the 1941 promise after Brown v. Topeka, Kansas, Board of Education (1954) began to dismantle Jim Crow education.
“From 1959 to 1967, Tennessee A&I students became heavily involved in the civil rights movement. In 1968, a set of plaintiffs sued in federal court to force the state to desegregate public higher education and provide A&I equal resources. The federal court merged the UT-Nashville campus into Tennessee State University in 1979. TSU has outgrown its Jim Crow legacy, and thrives as a racially diversified, comprehensive urban land-grant research doctoral-level institution with nearly 9,000 students,” concluded Lovett.
The book goes into detail, naming names, dates and places, along with the dollar amounts of every major move made by and for the school. Read about how William Jasper Hale finagled the school into existence and raised it up over its first three decades (1912-1943). Then alumnus Walter Strother Davis took the baton and elevated the institution to global greatness in academics and in athletics (1943-1968). The turbulent times that ensued further laid the development over the last half-century as TSU became a global leader in education. The book is available locally at Alkebu-Lan Images Bookstore near the TSU campus.