Alcorn is the oldest public historically black land-grant institution in the United States and the second-oldest state-supported institution of higher learning in Mississippi. Alcorn University was founded in 1871 as a result of the people of Mississippi’s efforts to educate the descendants of formerly enslaved Africans. It was named in honor of the sitting governor of Mississippi, James L. Alcorn.
Alcorn is situated in Claiborne County, seven miles west of Lorman, 80 miles south of the capital city of Jackson, 45 miles south of Vicksburg, and 40 miles north of Natchez. The site was originally occupied by Oakland College, a school established by Presbyterians in 1828; the state of Mississippi purchased the Oakland campus for $40,000 and named it Alcorn University. Hiram R. Revels resigned his seat as a United States senator to become the University’s first president. The state legislature provided $50,000 cash annually for the University’s first 10 years to support its establishment and overall operation. Additionally, 30 acres of land were sold for $188,928; Alcorn received three-fifths of the proceeds, or $113,400. This funding was used for Alcorn’s agricultural and mechanical components.
Initially, the institution’s three major study components were the four-year college track, the two-year college track, and the three-year graded track. Students spent the morning, from seven o’clock until noon, in classes. In the afternoon, they worked in various University shops for eight cents per hour. Room and board, including laundry, cost about $5 a month.
In 1878, Alcorn University became Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College. The college was exclusively for males at first, but eventually women were admitted. A dormitory for women was built in 1902. Over time, facilities increased from three historic buildings to more than 80 structures. The original purchase of 225 acres of land grew to a campus of more than 1,700 acres.
In 1974, Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College became Alcorn State University. Governor William L. Waller signed House Bill 298, granting this status. Alcorn has thrived by continuously accomplishing dynamic goals and objectives despite limited resource allocations from the state. By the early 1990s, Alcorn’s physical plant and academic programs evolved into a more diversified University. The student population is now representative of more than 65 counties, more than 30 states, and at least 18 foreign countries. The University provides an undergraduate education that enables students to successfully pursue work in graduate and professional schools, engage in teaching, and enter other professions.
As Mississippi recognized the importance of educating all citizens, Alcorn has gained status and importance. From the original eight faculty members in 1871, the University has grown to more than 800 faculty and staff. The student body has increased from 179 students to more than 4,000 students with varied ethnic backgrounds. Although early graduates of Alcorn had limited horizons, today’s graduates are successful in their chosen professions, and many are outstanding entrepreneurs. Throughout Alcorn’s history, the leadership and faculty remained committed to enhancing the institution’s image and to attracting young people whose interest is the pursuit and receipt of a quality education. Over the decades, “the college that excelled against great odds” has become one of the leading universities in the nation. Alcorn State University operates divisions with degree programs in more than 50 areas, including the bachelor’s, master’s, and educational specialist degrees.
The collaborative strength and contributions of Alcorn’s past 18 presidents during its more than 140 years of existence have enabled the institution to excel. On March 4, 2014, the Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning voted unanimously to appoint Dr. Alfred Rankins Jr. as Alcorn State University’s 19th president. President Rankins' background and vision are strategically aligned with Alcorn’s history and tradition. He is poised to expeditiously move Alcorn State University to the next level of excellence.
Dr. Josephine M. Posey
ASU History Research Associate(Author) Against Great Odds: The History of Alcorn State University (1994)