By Dr. Peter Dumbuya, FVSUprofessor of history
Two pieces of federal legislation gave rise to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the 19th century. The first was an act of the United States Congress in July 1862, a year after the outbreak of the Civil War. Popularly known as the Morrill Act or the Morrill Land Grant Act, the act empowered the federal government to donate public lands in “a quantity equal to thirty thousand acres for each senator and representative in Congress to which the States are respectively entitled by the apportionment under the census of eighteen hundred and sixty.” The lands and any proceeds from the sale thereof were to be used to support “agriculture and the mechanic arts,” among other subjects, in state colleges and universities. States in rebellion or insurrection against the United States government were not eligible to receive the benefits of this act.
Building upon the act of 1862, the second Morrill Act of 1890 provided annual appropriations in the amount of $15,000 to each state and territory “for the more complete endowment and maintenance of colleges for the benefit of agriculture and the mechanic arts.” The act also provided for an annual increase of $1,000 over the preceding year for the next ten years. Thereafter, Congress appropriated to each state and territory the sum of $50,000 for instruction in food and agricultural sciences and to prepare instructors to teach what it described as the elements of agriculture and the mechanic arts.
While, on the one hand, Congress barred states and territories from using funds under the 1890 act to support and maintain “a college where a distinction of race or color is made in the admission of students,” on the other, it made an exception where “the establishment and maintenance of such colleges separately for white and colored students” was achieved with an equitable division of funds. This provision foreshadowed the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) that nationalized the “separate-but-equal” doctrine in American constitutional history.
One of the beneficiaries of the act of 1890 was the Fort Valley High and Industrial School which was established in 1895 with John W. Davison as its first principal followed by Henry A. Hunt. In the early 20th century, the School’s existence became precarious due, in large part, to a lack of funds on a scale that allowed similar land-grant institutions to thrive. However, with financial contributions from railroad magnateCollis P. Huntington, the Carnegie Foundation, and the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio, among others, the School expanded its physical facilities as well as its academic offerings.
In 1939 Hunt’s efforts to further strengthen the School reached fruition when it merged with the State Teachers and Agricultural College to become Fort Valley State College (FVSC). William M. Hubbard had founded the Agricultural College in Forsyth in 1902. The new College chose Dr. Horace M. Bond as its first President to be succeeded by Dr. Cornelius V. Troup in 1945. During the post-World War II era, Fort Valley State College grew in size and substance, dedicating a number of buildings that included the John W. Davison Hall (1948), Leroy Bywaters Building (1952), Henry A. Hunt Memorial Library (1952), Alva Tabor Agriculture Building (1954), William M. Hubbard Education Building (1957), Football Stadium (1957), and the George N. Woodward Health and Physical Education Building (1959). The College also became a member of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), and in 1971 earned accreditation from the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).
Between 1973 when Dr. C. W. Pettigrew (1973-1982) became President and 1996 Fort Valley State College witnessed steady growth in physical structure and programs. In addition to completion of the Horace M. Bond building (1976), the College began to offer the Bachelor of Science Degree in Veterinary Science in 1986. This was followed by the dedication of the C. W. Pettigrew Farm and Community Life Center (1987) and the Computer Technology and Mathematics (CTM) Building (1995).
The most momentous turning point in the institution’s history occurred in June 1996 when the University System of Georgia (USG) designated Fort Valley State College as Fort Valley State University (FVSU), a State and Land-Grant University within the meaning of the 1890 second Morrill Act. Under Presidents Kofi Lomotey (2001-2005), Larry Rivers (2006-2013), and Ivelaw Griffith (2013-present), FVSU has continued to weather the storms caused by fluctuating enrolments and state budget cuts.
FVSU is located in the city of Fort Valley in Peach County, Georgia, home of America’s peach industry. The University sits on 1,365 acres of land (the second largest acreage of a public university in Georgia), and has a student population of over 2,500, representing a hundred and thirty (130) of Georgia’s one hundred and fifty-nine (159) counties, more than thirty (30) states, and ten (10) countries worldwide. In addition, ninety-four percent (94%) of the student population is African American. With the completion of the Wildcat Commons, about one-third of the students live on campus and eighty-five percent (85%) percent of them attend college on a full-time basis.