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The Feb. 2 Metro Pulse article explaining how Tennessee’s schools became separate and unequal was both interesting and relevant to the University of Tennessee’s 50-year celebration of desegregation. Thanks to Jesse Fox Mayshark for including a mention of Maryville College’s racial integration before the Civil War. The college’s founder, Isaac Anderson, was committed to providing an education to all who sought one, and among his first students were Cherokees and a freed slave, George Erskine, who went on to mission work in Africa. In his 1969 history book of Maryville College, president emeritus Dr. Ralph W. Lloyd wrote: “The Maryville story of racial integration is at many points one of real heroism.”
As your article points out, it was a Maryville College alumnus, Moses H. Gamble, who played a key role in drafting the 1901 Tennessee Education Segregation Act, but his actions did not reflect the values of the college then and now.
African-American performers, ministers, and educators were guests of the campus during the period when black students could not be enrolled. In 1903, Maryville College’s Board voted to turn over $25,000 of the college’s endowment (10 percent of its value at the time) to Swift Memorial Institute, a Presbyterian-affiliated school for African-Americans in Rogersville that was established by William Henderson Franklin, the first African-American graduate of Maryville College (in 1880).
On May 19, 1954, just two days after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed compulsory segregation in public schools, Maryville College President Lloyd and Board Chairman Joe C. Gamble, Moses H. Gamble’s son and the Gamble for whom Gamble Hall is named (thank you for making this correction to your story), recommended to other board members that the college begin admitting African-American students for the 1954-1955 academic year. The board agreed, and in August 1954, six black students enrolled.
While it is fitting that I write this letter during Black History Month, I am proud to say that we celebrate the college’s “open door” legacy daily.
Dr. William T. “Tom” Bogart
Maryville College President