A Journey Through Time
In 1994, the University of Tennessee celebrated its Bicentennial. As a part of the celebration, on October 1, 1994, the University unveiled the African American Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame, housed in the Black Cultural Center, recognizes African Americans who have made important contributions to the University of Tennessee. When visiting the Center you are invited to view the Hall of Fame Inductees and read more about their contributions to the University.
In 1881, the University of Tennessee began educating African Americans. All UT students were male, referred to as cadets, and were required to wear military type uniforms during this period. African American cadets were not allowed to attend classes at the main campus. They were educated at Fisk in Nashville and at Knoxville College. The University of Tennessee paid each institution $30 per student.
In 1892, there were forty-four students in the Negro Department that was developed at Knoxville College to educate African American students who were “enrolled” at the University. The faculty for this department (officially designated the “Industrial Department”) was paid by the University through Knoxville College. The University supervised instruction very closely. A female student managed to sneak in undetected, but was discovered. Her scholarship was continued, but her status as a cadet ended. By 1904, the number of students in this department had risen to sixty-nine.
In 1902, complaints from African American leaders began to rise concerning land grant funds and the disparity in allocations to African American and majority institutions. The solution recommended by these leaders was the establishment of a separate agricultural and mechanical college.
In 1912, the state opened the Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial Normal School for Negroes in Nashville. The objective was to train African American students in agricultural and mechanical arts and for teaching positions in the public schools. This brought an end to UT’s educational responsibilities—which did not resume until 1952 with the admission of the first African American student and in 1961 with the admission of the first undergraduate students.
In 1939, six African American students sought admission to law and graduate schools at the University. On September 26, 1939, their applications were denied. Years of legal maneuvering followed to address the issue of admissions of African American students.
In the fall of 1950, four students sought admission to the University’s law and graduate schools. In December, their applications were denied. Litigation continued. The students took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court in March, 1952. The Court did not take action since the University had changed its admissions policy to admit African American students into the law and graduate schools. Gene Mitchell Gray became the first African American student admitted to the University, as a graduate student.
The first African American student to receive a graduate degree from the University was Lillian Jenkins in August, 1954. She received her degree in Special Education.
In August, 1953 an African American professor of public health at Tuskegee Institute (Alabama) inquired about the integration of UT faculty. The immediate response to this inquiry was that “no positions were available” in his field. He had a B.S. and M.S. from The University of Minnesota, M.A. and Ph.D. in Health Education from Columbia University, and was a Fellow of the American Public Health Association.
Two years later, R.B.J. Campbelle was the first African American to receive a UT Law degree and in 1959, Harry Blanton was the first African American to receive the doctoral degree.
Theotis Robinson, a graduate of Austin High School in Knoxville, applied for admission to the University during the summer of 1960. His application was denied. However, Mr. Robinson met with Dr. Andrew Holt (UT President at the time) to voice his concerns regarding admissions policies and his determination to attend the University, even if he had to file a lawsuit to do so.
In January, 1961, Theotis Robinson and Willie Mae Gillespie were two of the three African Americans to become the first students to be admitted to the University as freshmen.
In 1967, Dr. Robert Kirk became the first African American full time professor at the University and Sammye Wynn became the first instructor hired at the University in the College of Education.
In 1969, Felicia Felder-Hoehne was the first African American librarian hired at the University.
In 1968, Lester McClain, of Antioch High School in Nashville, was the first African American to play football for the University.
During the 1967-68 track and field season, James Craig and Audry Hardy became the first African Americans to compete in track and field for the University.
Brenda J. L. Peel was the first African American to graduate with an undergraduate degree in June, 1964.
Marion Delaney-Harris was one of the first African American students to graduate from the University with undergraduate and graduate degrees in 1965 and 1968 respectively. The first African American to be elected S.G.A. President was Jimmie Baxter during the 1969-70 academic year.
In 1970, Hardy Liston became the first African American to be appointed to an administrative position. He served as Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs until his retirement in 1990.
During the early 1970’s, Condredge Holloway became the first African American quarterback for the University and the SEC. He also played baseball.
During the 1971-72 season, Wilbert Cherry and Larry Robinson became the University’s first African-American basketball players. Mr. Cherry was a walk-on who played junior varsity. Mr. Robinson was the first to receive a scholarship to play varsity basketball.
Patricia Roberts averaged nearly 30 points per game to set the single-season scoring record for the 1976-77 Lady Vols.
In 1989, Marilyn Yarborough was appointed Dean for the College of Law to become the first African American appointed as dean of a college at the University.
In 1980, Rodney Harmon became the University’s only African American standout in tennis—to date. Mr. Harmon and Mel Purcell won the NCAA tennis doubles championship in 1980—the University’s first NCAA individual tennis title.
In the mid-1980’s, Johnnie Jones became the University’s all-time leading rusher.
All-American Sheila Collins played for the Lady Vols from 1981 to 1985.
Benita Fitzgerald, former Lady Vol, is also a star track and field athlete. Ms. Fitzgerald earned eleven individual All-American awards and an Olympic gold medal in the 100-meter hurdles during the 1984 Olympic Games.
In 1989, the appointment of Wade Houston as head basketball coach was a first in the history of the University and the SEC.
In 1995, Dr. Dhyana Ziegler became the first African American faculty member in the history of the University to serve as President of the Faculty Senate.
The University established the African American Achievers Scholarship program in 1995. Rachel Ballard, Darnell Boddie, Stephani Johnson, Jawanza Jones, Keilani Martin, Cyrus Purnell, Consuela Sawyers, Kimberly Skipper, Alicia Smith, Shannon Spencer, Regina Walker and Jameko Williams were inducted into the Hall of Fame on September 30, 1995 as the first recipients of the scholarship.
On October 8, 1999, Fred D. Brown was inducted into the Hall of Fame as the first administrator of the Minority Engineering Scholarship Program. Mr. Brown was the program’s director from March, 1975 until 1985, and was credited for the success and national acclaim of the program.
UT-Knoxville Black Alumni Associates
The University of Tennessee Black Alumni Associates, created September 1, 1984, is a sub-organizational group of the University of Tennessee National Alumni Association (NAA). The Associates encourage African American alumni involvement in University affairs. All African American graduates and former students of UTK are automatically members of the Associates.
On November 1, 1985, the Associates established the Black Alumni Associates Endowment and Scholarship Fund. The fund was created to provide scholarships for deserving African American students at UTK. The fund exemplifies the type of commitment maintained throughout the Associates structure. A twenty-five member Board of Directors represents the Associates and meets semi-annually. The Board works directly with Director of UTK Alumni Affairs, who serves as a liaison between the Associates and the campus administration.
Special thanks was given to Dr. Milton Klein, University Historian; Honorees & families; Office of Alumni Affairs; Volunteer Moments; and the Office of Minority Student Affairs/Black Cultural Center for assisting with the research and preparation of the historical data during the Induction Ceremony & Unveiling of the Hall of Fame.
A New Era – The 21st Century
Dr. Jane S. Redmond served the University of Tennessee for almost 30 years in the roles of Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, Director of Minority Student Affairs, and Director of the Women’s Center. She was the guiding force behind the development, creation and construction of the three million dollar, 13,700 square feet, state-of-the art Black Cultural Center that opened in June 2002. The Dr. Jane S. Redmond Scholarship Fund has been named in her honor to benefit students at the University of Tennessee.
UT employee Dr. Marva Rudolph, a Chattanooga native, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014. Rudolph worked in the areas of diversity, inclusion, and human rights for over thirty years. Before joining UT in 1990 as a specialist in affirmative action, she worked with the Tennessee Human Rights Commission. In1994, she was named Assistant Director of UT’s Diversity Resources and Education Services office, later renamed the Office of Equity and Diversity, and she became the office’s Director in 1999. In 2013, she was promoted to Associate Vice Chancellor for Diversity. Rudolph worked to ensure equity in university recruitment and helped students and employees resolve issues related to equity and diversity. She also was responsible for ensuring the university’s compliance with federal diversity and disability requirements. The Dr. Marva Rudolph Diversity and Interculturalism Unit Excellence Award has been created in her honor, for the office, program, or department that has implemented diversity and inclusion initiatives that are linked to their mission and are sustainable.