Fort Valley State University’s History
Fort Valley State University is one of Georgia’s three public historically black colleges and universities. Located in Fort Valley, Ga., (the seat of Peach County) the institution has educated students for more than a hundred years and remains Georgia’s only 1890 land-grant school.
The university’s beautiful grounds include 1,365 acres of cleared, wooded, developed land, and its main campus incorporates 80 acres. The remaining space is used for agricultural research and future expansion. The campus buildings are a blend of architectural styles from the early 1900s with design features from succeeding decades.
Our mission is to advance the cause of education with an emphasis on a commitment to the community through a concept known as communiversity.
Fort Valley State University started as Fort Valley High and Industrial School in 1895. During that year, three white men and 15 African-American men petitioned Houston County's Superior Court for a charter to establish a public school for children. The charter was granted on Nov. 5, 1895.
Atlanta University alum John W. Davison became FVHIS’s first principal and guided the institution through its seminal years. To accomplish the school’s long-term goals, it needed financing. Davison began seeking donations from wealthy patrons in the North. In spite of his efforts, FVHIS experienced financial upheaval. The school’s board of trustees hired Henry A. Hunt in 1904, as the second principal, to help the school get back onto a solid, financial footing. Mrs. Florence Johnson Hunt worked equally as hard as her husband, to raise money for the school. She was successful in securing a large donation from the Episcopal Diocese of the State of Ohio; hence, the name of the dormitory for boys, Ohio Hall. Philanthropist Anna Jeanes agreed to donate $5,000 to the institution, to erect a frame school building and a shop. In 1904, Jeanes' Hall was named in her honor. The patron's donation was the first of many contributions made to advance African-American educational causes.
Hunt envisioned a grand expansion of FVHIS. The second principal chose to model FVHIS after Alabama's Tuskegee Institute founded by notable African-American leader Booker T. Washington. He introduced trade courses into the school's curriculum to attract additional students. The idea worked. Enrollment increased from 1904 to 1938. In 1908, Hunt obtained $25,000 from Collis P. Huntington, a great railroad financier, for the construction of Huntington Hall, a girls' dormitory. To ensure the institution's financial stability, FVHIS affiliated itself with the American Church Institute for Negroes for the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1919. The church’s backing financed the construction of Ohio Hall. Additional monies awarded by the Carnegie Foundation in 1925 erected Carnegie Library. Royal C. Peabody provided the funds for the Peabody Trades Building.
FVHIS continued expanding its curriculum throughout the 1920s. A post-high school, baccalaureate year, and later, a teacher's training program were in place by 1927. Liberal arts courses were also added for students. These additions resulted in the designation of FVHIS as a Junior College.
During the 1930s, FVHIS underwent several name changes. The school became Fort Valley Normal and Industrial School in 1932. Later that same year, Samuel Bishop donated funds for the construction of the school's first dining hall. In 1939, FVHIS merged with the State Teachers and Agricultural College of Forsyth. The newly-joined schools were named Fort Valley State College. Abruptly, the school severed its Episcopal Church affiliation to become a University System of Georgia member and four-year degree granting institution. Walter Cocking, a renowned college administrator hired by the system, encouraged the Board of Regents to approve the decision. Additionally, Cocking advised the BOR to appoint Horace Mann Bond as FVSC's first president.
Bond was born in 1904 to a college-educated African-American minister. As a young man, he demonstrated extraordinary intellectual potential and intelligence. He enrolled in Lincoln University, where he graduated in 1923. Bond's flourishing career as both a historian of education and a college administrator, was underway when he accepted the FVSC presidency in 1939. Bond is the father of civil rights activist Julian Bond.
Horace Mann Bond continued Hunt's work by focusing on teacher training for rural blacks. The school quickly flourished under his stewardship (1939-45). The college's finances doubled and state appropriations tripled - a remarkable accomplishment since black colleges weren't traditionally funded the same as majority institutions. In 1940, Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois delivered the first Founders' Day address on October 10. His speech entitled, "The Significance of Henry Hunt” celebrated the school’s second principal. Bond resigned in 1945.
Later in 1945, Dr. Cornelius V. Troup was appointed the second president. Under Troup, FVSC began offering graduate courses. Students could obtain master's degrees in education, home economics and agriculture by 1945. The Georgia Board of Regents, responding to a study in 1947, that called for a reorganization of the system's three HBCUs, adopted a resolution to make Fort Valley the state's 1890 Land-Grant College for Negroes, transferring the title from Georgia State College which later became Savannah State University. Schools with that designation offered an abridged liberal arts curriculum and placed greater emphasis on teaching agricultural techniques and home economic skills to Black students. The resolution was approved by the Georgia General Assembly in 1949.
On June 30, 1966, Troup retired as president.
Dr. W.W. E. Blanchet was appointed as the third president. During Blanchet's term, the College became accredited by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education in 1971. During the 1970s, the university’s football team – the Wildcats – received national attention, when its first regionally-televised football game (versus Fisk University) appeared on ABC Television.
W.W. E. Blanchet retired as FVSC’s fourth president in 1973. Later that same year, Dr. C.W. Pettigrew was appointed the fourth president of FVSC.
During the 1970s, Fort Valley worked with the University of Georgia to create a new unit of UGA's Cooperative Extension Service. The program offered agricultural and home economics to the state's rural population.
The school became accredited, in 1979, by the American Association of Veterinary Medicine. When Pettigrew died in 1982, Dr. Walter Sullivan was appointed acting president.
In the fall of 1983, Dr. Luther Burse became FVSC’s fifth president. Burse, his wife Mamie, and their two children, quickly integrated into the college family. Like his predecessors and successors, Burse was well-qualified for the position. He held a baccalaureate degree from Kentucky State University, a master’s degree from Indiana University, and a doctorate from the University of Maryland at College Park. His teaching and administrative experience included positions at Elizabeth City State in North Carolina and Cheyney State College in Pennsylvania. His work at Cheyney State included stints as coordinator of graduate studies and interim president. He led FVSC through a period of significant growth and development. The College’s emergence on the national scene was highlighted by a visit from the ABC network’s “Good Morning America” the year following Burse’s arrival.
Perhaps the most significant development of the Burse years, was the inauguration of the Cooperative Developmental Energy Program (CDEP) with seed money from the U.S. Department of Energy. The program, founded and directed by Dr. Isaac Crumbly, teams with multinational energy companies and government agencies such as Shell Oil, Exxon Mobil and the U. S. Department of Energy and partner schools such as the University of Pennsylvania, Georgia Tech and the University of Nevada to launch the careers of minorities and women in the industry. CDEP, one of few programs of its kind in the nation, offers dual degrees in math, engineering, chemistry, biology, health physics and geosciences. CDEP, under Crumbly’s leadership is a signature Fort Valley State initiative.
Additional developments during the Burse years, included: the initiation of the Academic Honors Program that provided special classes for students with top academic preparation, the first courses in computer science at the Robins Air Force Base, the dedication of the C.W. Pettigrew Farm and Life Center, which provided FVSC with a conference center, and the opening of the Georgia Small Ruminant Research and Extension Center as part of the institution’s Land Grant and agricultural mission.
Luther Burse left FVSC in 1988, and Dr. Melvin E. Walker, Jr., took the helm as interim president. Burse pushed for the institution’s growth and expansion. FVSC was now poised to begin the movement to gain university status.
In 1990, Oscar Lewis Prater was selected as the sixth president of FVSC. Prater’s administration would be a momentous decade in the history of the institution. Prater came to Fort Valley from Hampton University where he had served as vice president. A native Alabamian, he held a Bachelor’s in Mathematics from Talladega College, a Master of Arts from Hampton University and a Master of Science and doctorate in education from the College of William and Mary. His teaching experience included tenures at Rappahannock Community College and the public schools of Williamsburg, Va. Among scholarly credentials, he was a contributing author of The Status of Blacks in Higher Education (1989). Prater clearly continued FVSC’s tradition of well-qualified leadership.
President Prater’s administration began on a high note – FVSC’s computer science program was initiated with Title III funding and quickly drew national attention and praise. Then in May of 1993 the School of Education, Graduate Programs and External Degrees met the new and more stringent standards of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and was accredited by that agency. The next year the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia authorized FVSC to award the Education Specialist Degree with a major in Guidance and Counseling. Also in 1994-95, the school embarked on its centennial celebration, and its enrollment passed 2,900. To crown these years, a new computer technology and mathematics building opened, and FVSC was advanced to a Level IV School by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. This designation meant that the school could offer specialist-level degrees, in addition to master’s degrees at the graduate level.
The most momentous change of the Prater Administration came on June 12, 1996. After several years of campaigning, the institution was granted university status by the USG BOR. The new name became the Fort Valley State University, a State and Land Grant University. An opening convocation to display the new University seal and a new access road named “University Boulevard” took place on Oct. 1, 1996. This status change brought a new emphasis on scholarship in both faculty and students. FVSU began to assert regional and national leadership in a number of academic arenas. The Land Grant mission also continued to expand as indicated by the opening of the Meat Technology Center as part of the College of Agriculture in 1998.
In 2001, Prater, saddened by the loss of his wife Jacqueline several years before, retired from the presidency of FVSU. He later became president of his alma mater, Talladega College.
In October, 2001, Dr. Kofi Lomotey took office as the seventh president of Fort Valley State. Lomotey had a strong academic background. He held a bachelor’s from Oberlin College and a master’s of education from Cleveland State University. Additionally, Lomotey held a master’s and doctorate from Stanford University. Lomotey served as editor of the journal, Urban Education. He authored and co-authored several books including, The Racial Crisis in American Higher Education (1991) and Going to School: The African American Experience (1990). He was formerly on the faculty member at Louisiana State University and SUNY-Buffalo and came to FVSU from the position of senior vice president at Medgar Evers College–CUNY. He had also founded a pre-school/early elementary program for African American children in Oberlin, Ohio.
African World Studies Institute and Davison Lecture Series
Lomotey hoped to make significant revisions in the curriculum at FVSU, expanding the attention paid to Africa and the heritage of its people. The first step was the creation of the African World Studies Institute, a semi-autonomous unit of the institution which would be a center of research and teaching. The new emphasis was soon apparent in campus activities such as the African World Film Festival which was inaugurated in 2002. That same year, Alma Bass donated money to repair the historic clock tower at Founders’ Hall in 2002. In 2004, the Board of Regents granted its approval of the baccalaureate degree in African World Studies. Lomotey also developed the Davison Lecture Series, named in honor of the first principal of the Fort Valley High and Industrial School, bringing to campus such notables as Cornell West, Henry Louis Gates, and Michael Eric Dyson.
The university grew in other ways during the Lomotey administration as well. In 2003, a branch campus opened in Warner Robins, Ga. and the American Meteorological Society’s Online Weather Studies Diversity Program, WeatherNet were established. The next year, a Liberal Studies degree was added to the curriculum, and FVSU won the “Trumpet Award for Higher Education Institution of the Year”.
In 2005, President Lomotey unexpectedly resigned. He became executive vice president and provost at Fisk University. Dr. William H. Harris was appointed interim president of FVSU.
On March 14, 2006, Dr. Larry E. Rivers became FVSU’s eighth president. To raise money for the school, Rivers and First Lady Betty Jean Rivers donated seed money from their personal savings to begin a challenge fund with $100,000. The leadership adopted “Communiversity" as a way to strengthen ties between the Fort Valley community through joint service projects and collaborative programs. Later that year, Warner Robins Center reopened, offering courses in social work, computer science, computer information systems, business administration and electronic engineering technology.
FVSU signed agreements with Central Georgia Technical College and Middle Georgia Technical College – ensuring a smooth transition for students from technical schools entering the university. A massive beautification of FVSU’s campus took place in 2006. The university received a $700,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Interior, with a $300,000 match from the Georgia Board of Regents to begin the restoration and stabilization of Huntington Hall. A new Centennial Monument – the Wildcat statue – was dedicated. In fall 2007, the $44-million Wildcat Commons, a 951-bed student residential complex, opened. Later that year, the school’s Valley Behavioral Health Services opened. Last year, the new Wildcat stadium opened on campus. A $19 million state-of-the-art SMART Academic Classroom and Laboratory Building project, which launched in 2007, will open in the Fall 2010.
Construction projects totaled only $30 million between 1976 and 2006. But under Rivers’ leadership, the value of capital projects increased by six to $160 million (since 2006).
The university’s enrollment has also flourished under Rivers’ tenure. In 2007, the student population rose by more than 17 percent with a historically-high freshmen enrollment. The increase was the largest in the University System of Georgia. For the 2010-2011 school year, the student enrollment is projected to reach 4,000 students. Rivers’ ultimate goal is to boost the student enrollment to 5,000 by 2012.
Fort Valley State University is the engine that drives economic growth in the Middle Georgia region. The Intellectual Capital Partnership Program (ICAPP), an initiative of the Board of Regents commissioned the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth to analyze data collected between July 1, 2008 and June 30, 2009. The results show the entire university system’s FY2009 economic impact. FVSU provides 1,535 jobs to workers and contributes more than $85 million to the local economy.
Famous alumni include state representative Calvin Smyre, NFL professional football players Greg Lloyd and Tyrone Poole; also Hall of Famer Rayfield Wright, and Olympic Gold Medalist
By fall 2005, 2,174 students enrolled at Fort Valley, and 1,992 were undergraduates. Ninety-four percent of the student population was African-American, with a six-to-four ratio of female to male students. Ninety-seven faculty members were employed fulltime at FVSU in 2005.
Today, the university continues to focus on teacher education and to fulfill its mission as a land-grant institution. The school offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in education and supports the thriving College of Agriculture, Family Sciences and Technology, which includes the Department of Veterinary Science, established in 1976.