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March 17, 1891: State Legislature Establishes the West Virginia Colored Institute

WVSU campus in Institute, W.Va.
Steve Shaluta
W.Va. Department of Commerce

On March 17, 1891, the West Virginia Legislature established the West Virginia Colored Institute eight miles west of Charleston. It was one of the nation’s original 17 black land-grant colleges.The school’s initial purpose was to teach trades, but the academic and teacher education programs quickly grew popular. Under the leadership of John W. Davis, the school became one of the country’s most-respected black colleges. Davis was able to recruit some of the nation’s best educators, including Carter G. Woodson. Other faculty members were nationally known artists, musicians, and scientists. In 1927, the school became regionally accredited—the first of the original black land-grant colleges to achieve this status. Two years later, the school’s name was changed to West Virginia State College.

By mid-century, State was facing declining enrollment. In response, President William J. L. Wallace established evening programs to recruit adults and opened the school’s doors to white students. Soon, the number of white students far outnumbered black students, making State a national model for racial integration.

The campus and enrollment expanded significantly in the late 20th century. And, in 2004, West Virginia State achieved university status.

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