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. When it was founded in 1871, the institution’s three major study components were the four year college track, the two year track, and the three year graded track. The students spent the mornings from seven o’clock until noon in classes. In the afternoon, they worked in the various shops for eight cents per hour. Room and board, including laundry, equated to five dollars a month.
Alcorn State University was founded as the 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. The site was originally occupied by Oakland College, a school established by Presbyterians in 1828. The state of Mississippi purchased the Oakland College campus for $40,000 and named it Alcorn University with the first president being Hiram R. Revels. Revels resigned his seat as a United States senator to assume the post. The state legislature provided $50,000 in cash for ten successive years for establishment and overall operation of the college. Additionally, proceeds from the sale of 30 acres of land for $188,928 yielded three-fifths of the proceeds for Alcorn, totaling $113,400. These proceeds were used only for the agricultural and mechanical components of the college.
In 1878, Alcorn University became Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College. The original purchase of 225 acres of land had grown to over a 1700 acre campus. Alcorn is situated in Claiborne County, seven miles west of Lorman, Mississippi, 80 miles south of the capital city Jackson, Mississippi, 45 miles south of Vicksburg, Mississippi and 40 miles north of Natchez, Mississippi. 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 modern structures.
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 had grown from just a name change 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 grew in status and importance.
Alcorn State University began with eight faculty members in 1871 and today there are more than 800 faculty and staff. The student body has grown from 179 students to more than 3,800 students from all over the world 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 restoring and 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 now become one of the leading universities in the nation. Alcorn State University operates seven divisions with degree programs in more than 50 areas including the bachelors, masters, and educational specialist degrees.
The collaborative strength and contributions of Alcorn’s past seventeen presidents during its 140 years of existence have enabled the institution to excel. On November 30, 2010, the Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning voted unanimously to appoint Dr. M. Christopher Brown II as Alcorn State University’s 18th president. President Brown’s 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 Against Great Odds: The History of Alcorn State (1994)