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University History

Researched by Raymond Hylton, Professor of History

Our mission at Virginia Union University was first put into operation shortly after April 3, 1865, the date when Richmond, Virginia was liberated by troops of the United States Army of the James. It was then that representatives from our founding organization, the American Baptist Home Mission Society, came to the former Confederate capital as teachers and missionaries. In that same month, eleven teachers were holding classes for former slaves at two missions in the city. By November 1865 the Mission Society had established, and was officially holding classes for, Richmond Theological School for Freedmen, one of the four institutions forming the “Union” that gives our University its name. Even though the Civil War had ended and that same year the 13th Amendment to the Constitution officially abolished slavery, many trials still lay ahead. It became more and more certain that freedom would not, of itself, be enough. It could not sufficiently address the problems of a large, newly-emancipated population that had been systematically kept down and denied training skills, opportunities, and even literacy itself. Some slaves had been severely punished for even trying to read the Bible.

Fortunately, there were many who cared, and who would try to impart the education and skills necessary for the full enjoyment of freedom and citizenship, to the newly-freed population. One such group of concerned individuals were the members of the American Baptist Home Mission Society (ABHMS). They proposed a “National Theological Institute” designed primarily at providing education and training for African-Americans to enter into the Baptist ministry; and soon this mission would expand into offering courses and programs at college, high school and even preparatory levels, to both men and women.

In 1865, following the surrender of the Confederacy, branches of the “National Theological Institute” were set up in Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Virginia. The Washington institution received a $1,500 grant from the Freedman’s Bureau and met at various locations including: Judiciary Square; “I” Street; Louisiana Avenue and, finally, Meridian Hill. The school became known as Wayland Seminary; and it acquired a sterling reputation under the direction of its president, Dr. George Mellen Prentiss King. Dr. King administered Wayland for thirty years (1867-97) and stayed on as a professor for twenty additional years at both Wayland and at Virginia Union University. The King Gate which currently faces Lombardy Street and is situated between Ellison Hall and the Baptist Memorial Building was named in his honor shortly before he died in 1917. Among the notable students to grace Wayland’s halls were: Dr. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. the famous pastor of New York’s Abyssinian Baptist Church; Dr. Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskegee University and author of Up From Slavery; Reverend Harvey Johnson of Baltimore, Maryland – pastor and early civil rights activist; Kate Drumgoold, author of A Slave Girl’s Story: Being an account of Kate Drumgoold (1898); Henry Vinton Plummer, Civil War Naval combat hero and U.S. Army Chaplain to the “Buffalo Soldiers”; and Albert L. Cralle, inventor of the ice-cream scoop.

Richmond, 1865-83

It would be much tougher to begin the mission in Richmond, Virginia, the former capital of the Confederate States; which had suffered extensive damage during the Evacuation Fire when Southern troops had fled the city; and where most of the white population was opposed to everything that the ABHMS was trying to accomplish. Dr. J G. Binney, the first teacher sent out to open a school in Richmond, taught night classes to some 25 freedmen from November 1865-July 1866 before giving up and leaving for Burma. However, on May 13, 1867, Dr. Nathaniel Colver an elderly, hard-bitten abolitionist who could not be intimidated by anyone, arrived to resume the task. He had a great deal of trouble even finding suitable accommodations to rent, and was close to despair when he had a chance meeting with Mrs. Mary Ann Lumpkin, from whom he was able to rent a patch of land and buildings at 15th & Franklin Streets known as Lumpkin’s Jail or “The Devil’s Half Acre”. Mrs. Lumpkin was a former whose late husband, Robert Lumpkin, had been a slave-dealer and had run the property as a holdingpen/punishment “breaking” center, which still contained whipping posts. Living with Dr. Colver on the premises of the new school, which was named Richmond Theological School for Freedmen was the family of the Reverend James H. Holmes, another former slave who became pastor of First African Baptist Church. The support of Black ministers and community leaders proved to be crucial to the success of the school – of particular importance were Holmes; the Reverend Richard Wells of Ebenezer Baptist Church; and Pastor George Jackson from Halifax County, Virginia. After some initial misgivings the African-American Community of Richmond would adopt the fledgling institution as its own. Dr. Colver scheduled basic classes in Grammar, Arithmetic, Geography and Spelling/Reading as well as Biblical Knowledge during a six hour day from 1867-68. It was indeed a strange atmosphere, the classroom windows still had their prison bars, and the former whipping posts were used as lecterns for the professors.

But Dr. Colver was over seventy, and in poor health and in 1868 handed over his burden as school principal to Dr. Charles Henry Corey, who had previously taught at Augusta Institute. For a while the school was called Colver Institute in the old man’s honor. Dr. Corey proved to be a dynamic leader and directed the school for 31 years, becoming revered by his students and earning the respect of the Richmond Community. In 1870, he made the move from Lumpkin’s Jail, which still held painful memories for many of the students, and purchased the former United States Hotel building at 19th & Main Street for $10,000.

In 1876, the school was incorporated by the Virginia General Assembly under the name Richmond Institute, Dr. Corey taking charge officially as president, with the support of a Board of Trustees which included Holmes and Wells. The Institute was the first in the South to employ African-American teaching assistants and faculty and in 1876 was offering curricula which were preparatory (elementary); academic (pre-college) and theological. Enrollment grew steadily and among its earliest students Richmond Institute numbered it first foreign graduate, Samuel M. Harden of Lagos, Nigeria (1879) and its first female graduate, Maria E. Anderson (1882). An Alumni Association under the leadership of Charles J. Daniel (class of 1878) was organized in 1879.   

Hartshorn Memorial College & Virginia Union University

In 1883 a special college for the exclusive education of African-American women was established by the ABHMS through the donation of the wealthy Joseph C. Hartshorn of Rhode Island as a memorial to his late wife Rachel. The curriculum was to be modeled  on that of Wellesley College and the imposing Dr. Lyman Beecher Tefft was appointed its first president. Although the college first convened its classes in the basement of Ebenezer Baptist Church on Leigh Street, its campus was finally set up along the corner of Lombardy & Leigh Street, across from the present C.D. King Building. With no further women students, Richmond Institute turned strictly to theological studies and re- established itself as Richmond Theological Seminary in 1886, offering its first Bachelor’s degree, the Bachelor of Divinity. During the 1890’s plans were pushed forward to merge historically-black institutions into one University, and by 1899 it was agreed that Wayland Seminary and Richmond Theological Seminary would come together to form Virginia Union University. Accordingly, a tract of pasture land on Lombardy Street, containing part of an area known as “Sheep Hill”, was purchased by the ABHMS. Dr. Corey would retire, and pass on in 1899, but not before he had written the first account of the history of the institution: A History of the Richmond Theological Seminary with Reminiscences of Thirty Years’ Labor among the Colored People of the South. He was thus described by a contemporary: “… criticism has never discouraged him, condemnation could not cow his spirit”. Corey Street, on the opposite side of Lombardy Street from the King Gate, perpetuates his memory on campus.

Early Years at Virginia Union, 1899-1941

The first Founders’ Day took place on February 11, 1899 with a groundbreaking ceremony at the site of present-day Kingsley Hall. The first classes convened at Virginia Union University on October 4, 1899. Nine “noble buildings” in Virginia granite, some inlaid with Georgia pine, designed by architect John Coxhead of Buffalo New York in late-Victorian Romanesque Revival style gave the campus a distinctive, dignified atmosphere from the very beginning. Those still to be seen include: *Pickford Hall: which was named after former trustee board member C. J. Pickford and which served as the original classroom building. Later the basement would contain the

“Old Pie Shop”, the first student “hangout” on campus, which was run by the famous sports coach Henry Hucles who would sell large slices of pie and a glass of milk for five cents! Pickford Hall currently houses the Presidential executive offices, the Campus Police, and the Sydney Lewis School of Business.

*Kingsley Hall: named for Chester Kingsley, past president of the ABHMS, and the original dormitory. It is now the site of the Samuel Dewitt Proctor School of Theology.

*Coburn Hall: named after Maine governor Abner Coburn, it held the original chapel and the Library collection. Many legendary pastors, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. Benjamin Mays; Dr. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr.; Dr. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. and Dr. Ralph Abernathy, have preached at Coburn Chapel; internationally-renowned scholars like Dr. W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington have delivered lectures there, and Langston Hughes delivered his first poetry recitation in the South there on November 19, 1926 (his girlfriend, Miss Laudee Williams, attended Hartshorn Memorial College at the time). Coburn Hall burned in 1970 and, now restored, houses the Dr. Allix B. James Chapel which holds services at 11:00 each Thursday.

*Martin E. Gray Hall: named after a church deacon from Willoughby, Ohio who donated $25,000 towards its construction. It was the original dining hall and, though also damaged by fire in 1993, has been totally repaired and houses the Evelyn Syphax School of Teacher Education & Psychology and some offices of the School of Humanities & Social Sciences.

*Baptist Memorial Hall: which was originally the residence of Dean George Rice Hovey; and the subsequent residence of four University presidents. It is now the location of Sponsored Programs and Upward Bound. 

*The “Power Plant” with its towering smokestack and the currently boarded-up, unoccupied building beside it which once was the Industrial Training School during the University’s early years. In the early days, the University generated its own power, had its own water supplies, and kept cows, horses, pigs and chickens at a nearby barn. Part of the “work study” of those early years was having the students take care of the animals and help run the power plant. The first students at VUU also donned hardhats and took a hand in the construction of the buildings of their own University.

The first University president was Dr. Malcolm MacVicar, born in Argyleshire, Scotland in 1828. Known as “that man of iron and steel”, Dr.MacVicar waged a lifelong struggle against prejudice and ignorance. A slightly-built, grandfatherly figure, the President wanted buildings to “inspire” every student that enter their walls and was instrumental in securing the construction of a bridge spanning the Seaboard Railway and connecting the University campus with that of Hartshorn College. He passed away at his residence on Commencement morning, May, 17, 1904. MacVicar Hall dormitory was named in his honor.

His successor was Dr. George Rice Hovey from Massachusetts who had served as University Dean. A former athlete himself, Dr. Hovey laid the foundations for VUU’s Athletic Program. He purchased, for $8,483.55, an 11-acre tract of land on the opposite side of Lombardy Street from the main campus. Part of this was transformed into the main athletic field, later to be dubbed “Hovey Park” and “Hovey Stadium”. In 1909, VUU formed a basketball squad and in 1912 the University became a charter member of CIAA. On November 27, 1913, a new dormitory facility was dedicated and named Huntley Hall, for Trustee Board member Dr. Byron Huntley, who had designated $10,000 in his will towards its construction. The King Gate was dedicated during the following year’s Commencement exercises. Dr. Hovey resigned in 1918 and Dr. William John Clark from Albion, Nebraska was selected by the Board as third president of Virginia Union University.

Among Dr. Clark’s accomplishments was the establishment of a School of Education; a Law School (1922-31); a Norfolk branch (later to become Norfolk State University); accreditation by the Southern Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges; and the merger of Hartshorn Memorial College in 1932. Hartshorn thus became the third institution in the “Union”; and the University became “co-ed”. Another dormitory, Hartshorn Memorial Hall, preserves the name and memory of VUU’s “sister” institution, which was the first African-American women’s college ever established, and which conferred the first bachelor’s degrees at an African-American women’s college. Among its most notable students were the heroic missionary to the Congo, Eva Roberta Coles Boone; the distinguished educator and Dean of Women at VUU, Leah Virginia Lewis; and political activist Bessye Banks Bearden. In 1928, the first issue of the Panther yearbook was published and the first Miss VUU was elected by the students during a Thanksgiving Day Football game – her name was Mary S. Booker.

Dramatic Change at VUU, 1941-1970

President Clark’s retirement was followed by the history-making election of Dr. John Malcus Ellison as VUU’s fourth chief executive. Dr. Ellison was the first University Alumnus and the first African-American to become president. Born in Northumberland County, Virginia on February 2, 1889, Ellison completed his Bachelor of Arts degree at Virginia Union in 1917; attained his Master’s from Oberlin School of Theology in 1927; and was awarded a Doctorate in Christian Education and Sociology at Drew University in 1933. After serving as first campus pastor and professor of Sociology and Ethics at Virginia State College, he accepted a position on the Virginia Union faculty in 1936. Dr. Ellison’s most visible achievement was the successful prosecution of the Belgian Building project. The building itself was part of the Belgian Exhibition at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. When the Nazi invasion of Belgium made the dismantling and shipping of the building (which was architecturally in the avant-garde and included masterpieces of sculptural relief) back to Belgium impossible, Dr. Ellison campaigned unceasingly to raise funds for its relocation to the Union campus and oversaw the complex negotiations and operations that led to the installing of VUU’s best-known landmarks: the Belgian Friendship Building and the Vann Tower. The building itself was converted to house a gymnasium, Natural Sciences classrooms and laboratories; and the University Library (which was named the William John Clark Library and which remained there until 1997). The gym was officially designated as: Barco-Stevens Hall, in honor of Dr. John W. Barco, a graduate of the class of 1902 and VUU Vice-president from 1929-47; and Professor Wesley A. Stevens, teacher of mathematics and basketball/track coach. The Vann Tower was named in honor of a distinguished former VUU student, Robert L. Vann, a successful attorney and Civil Rights activist who founded the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper.

Under Dr. Ellison’s leadership VUU launched its world-renowned graduate school of Theology in 1942; and in 1953 White Hall was built, originally to provide training to women for work in the missions field and/or religious education. Named for Blanche Sydnor White, executive secretary to the Women’s Missionary Union of the Southern Baptist Convention, it now houses the Athletic Department, and Music classes are held there. Dr. Ellison retired from the presidency in 1955 and was followed by Dr. Samuel Dewitt Proctor (VUU class of 1942), who had already served as Dean of the School of Theology and University Vice-President. The charismatic Proctor had to endure serious medical problems with family members and intimidation from white racists (including the Ku Klux Klan’s burning of a cross on the campus), as civil rights/desegregation unrest grew during the late 1950’s. However, Union prospered during his five years at the helm and added an additional women’s dormitory, Ora Johnson Newman Hall (named after a distinguished alumna & Richmond Public School educator).

On February 20, 1960, Virginia Union students and faculty marched to downtownRichmond department store lunch-counters in support of the Greensboro, North Carolina sit-ins to desegregate all such facilities. On February 22, 1960, Thirty-Four VUU students courageously staged a sit-in at Richmond’s most exclusive dining facility, and were arrested for “trespassing”. The arrests of the “Union 34”, the first mass arrests of the Civil Rights Movement was the crucial event that set of the Campaign for Human Dignity that virtually destroyed racial segregation in Richmond within two years.

Upon Dr. Proctor’s resignation to assume the presidency of North Carolina A & T, the Board of Trustees tapped the University Dean, Dr. Thomas Howard Henderson, a 1929 VUU graduate, to fill the position. In 1964, Storer College of Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, which had been founded in 1867 by the Free Will Baptists, merged its assets with Virginia Union (the fourth component of the “Union”). Storer College had ceased offering classes in 1955, but numbered among its distinguished former students Nnamdi Azikiwe, celebrated poet, and first President of the Republic of Nigeria. Dr. Henderson’s administration coincided with the years of the civil rights movement and VUU students, faculty and alumni played a proactive role: Wyatt Tee Walker; Walter Fauntroy and Charles Sherrod being only the most conspicuous examples. An incredibly Ambitious building program resulted in the construction of four major structures: John Malcus Ellison Hall, which is currently the major classroom building; the Thomas H. Henderson Center, which now contains the post office, the Office of Admissions, the Office of Student Affairs and Cafeteria; Storer Hall, a men’s dormitory; and MacVicar Hall, a women’s dormitory. These buildings were of course named, respectively, after: VUU’s fourth president; it’s sixth president; Storer College (which in turn had been named after John Storer, a prosperous merchant from Maine who donated part of his fortune to the education of Freedmen); and the first president of VUU. 

VUU in recent years: 1970-Present

Upon Dr. Henderson’s untimely death in January 1970, another Union alumnus (class of 1944), Vice-President Dr. Allix Bledsoe James, was called upon to assume the position. Under Dr. James’ direction, the Sydney Lewis School of Business School of business was established and fully accredited; and Community Learning Week was developed. Dr. James retired in 1979 and Dr. Dorothy Norris Cowling served as Acting President until the Board of Trustees selected Dr. David Thomas Shannon as the eighth VUU President. During Dr. Shannon’s term of office, the building of the British  American Tobacco Corporation at the southwest corner of Leigh & Lombardy Streets was signed over to the University. It was named the C.D. King Building in honor of Clarence D. King, a successful New York businessman, and Chair of the Board of Trustees for the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. C.D. King houses the Business, Human Resources, Institutional Advancement and University Relations Offices.

Dr. Shannon resigned to take up an administrative post at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, and Mrs. Carolyn Daughtry directed University affairs as Provost before the Board selected Dr. S. Dallas Simmons as VUU’s ninth president. Dr. Simmons served from 1985-99 and was instrumental in bringing the Police Academy and initiating a Criminal Justice Program on campus. Coburn Hall and Martin E. Gray Hall, which had both been gutted by fire, were restored and the

School of Theology was at last moved into Kingsley Hall. The Admiral Building, which was originally rented by the University to maintain the Teacher Preparation program while Martin E. Gray was being restored was purchased by VUU to house the Athletics Department. However, the most spectacular project involved the construction (1996-7) of a new library facility: the L. Douglas Wilder Library and Learning Center, which honors the Honorable L. Douglas Wilder, a 1951 alumnus and Board member who served as Virginia’s first African-American governor (in fact, as the first African-American governor in the history of the nation).

In 1999, the Board named Dr. Bernard Wayne Franklin, president of St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh, North Carolina as Dr. Simmons’ successor. Under Dr. Franklin, VUU became the first historically black college in the nation to put in place a completely wired campus internet system. In 2003, Dr. Belinda Childress Anderson became the eleventh VUU President. Dr. Anderson established the VUU Museum of Art and the History Panels at the Wilder Library. On January 21, 2009, Dr. Claude Grandford Perkins took office at the Chief Executive position and became Virginia Union’s twelfth President. Under Dr. Perkins’ leadership the University Center for International Studies was established; and a favorable accreditation report was achieved by the University from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. In terms of structural change: a stone monument commemorating the 34 VUU students arrested in the 1960 Sit- In was placed in front of the Martin E. Gray Building; and stained glass windows donated by Reverend Franklyn Richardson’s Grace Baptist Church congregation in Mt. Vernon, New York, depicting aspects of the history and mission of the University, were set into place at Coburn Chapel. Infused with a new dynamism and drawing strength from the very principles on which we were founded, Virginia Union University indeed looks ahead to: The Promise of a Limitless Future.

Notable Alumni  

From the very beginning, Virginia Union students and faculty members were at the forefront. Pastor Richard Wells led the first-known civil rights protest march to meet President Andrew Johnson at the White House to report to him that African-Americans were being mistreated by former Confederates, who were trying to re-impose forms of slavery in Richmond. Mayor Joseph Mayo was fired as a result. Since the time of Wells, who was one of the first graduates of the institution while it was housed at Lumpkin’s Jail, Virginia Union alumni have distinguished themselves in fields of endeavor as diverse as: the Christian ministry; social activism; politics & government; journalism; sports & entertainment; education; the sciences and the military.

Education, Law, Public Service

Charles Spurgeon Johnson  (class of 1916): became Director of Research & Investigation for the National Urban League, and editor of its publication: Opportunities: a Journal of Negro Life. In this capacity he was a major, guiding force in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s, facilitating the careers of many notable Black artists, musicians, poets and writers. Johnson later served as president of Fisk University.

Eugene Kinckle Jones (’06): was a founder of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity;  First Secretary of the National Urban League; and, along with such individuals as Dr. Mary MacLeod Bethune and A. Philip Randolph, a member of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s unofficial “Black Cabinet” of advisors.

Dr. Benjamin Mays, who attended for one year but did not finish at VUU, became President at Morehouse College, where he was the mentor and role-model for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.   

Henry L. Marsh, III , (’56) lawyer, served on Richmond City Council, became the first African-American mayor of Richmond in 1979, and was later elected to the Virginia State Senate.

Benjamin Lambert, III, (’59) also entered the legal profession and was elected to the Virginia Senate.

Dr. Jean Louise Harris (’51) went on to become the first African-American to graduate from the Medical College of Virginia; Virginia Secretary of Human Resources from 1978-82; and Mayor of Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

Dr. Spottswood Robinson, III (’37) was a major participant in the legal battles against segregation and racial bias and became Judge of the US Court of appeals for the district of Columbia.

Dr. Lucille Brown (’50) enjoyed a successful career as teacher and administrator in the Richmond Public Schools system and served as Richmond City Schools Superintendent.

John Merchant (’55) broke ground as the first African-American graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, and has gone onto practice law in Connecticut. 

Curtis W. Harris (’55), pastor of Union Baptist Church in Hopewell, Virginia, was  president of the Virginia Unit of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and first African-American mayor in history (of Hopewell).
The most distinguished political/public service career to date has of course been that of  the Honorable Lawrence Douglas Wilder (’51), attorney, State Senator, Lieutenant-Governor, and Governor of Virginia from 1990-94. 

Business, Science and the Military

Harlow Fullwood, Jr. (’77) became highly-successful franchise operator for Kentucky Fried Chicken, Inc.; founder of the Harlow Fullwood Foundation; and the author of an autobiography:  Love Lifted Me: A Life’s Journey of Harlow Fullwood, Jr.

Osborne Allen Payne (’50) has prospered as the owner of Broadway-Payne, a MacDonald’s franchise business, and founded Associated Black Charities of Baltimore,Maryland.

Dr. Howard S. Jones, Jr. (’43) was one of the most prolific African-American inventors in the history of the United States, holding rights to no less than 31 patents. A specialist in the fields of  Microwave Research and Electromagnetics, Dr. Jones held positions at the Department of the Army and the National Bureau of Standards.

Samuel Gravely (’48), president of the VUU International Alumni Association, capped a distinguished career of service in the US Navy by becoming the first African-American Admiral (holding the ranks of Rear & Vice Admiral) in the nation’s history.

Mary L. DePillars (’74) joined NationsBank and rose to become Senior Vice-President. 

Dr. Yvonne Maddox (’65) was named Deputy Director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in 1995; and five years later, Acting Deputy Director for the National Institute of Health.

Dr. Frank Royal (’61) served as president of the National Medical association and is currently Chairman Emeritus of the VUU Board of Trustees.

Athletics, Authorship and Activism

Since joining the CIAA as a charter member the University and its coaches & players have constantly been in the forefront of athletic achievement. The coaches have gone down as legends in their own time: Henry Hucles; Thomas “Tricky Tom” Harris; Dave Robbins; Willard Bailey. Some alumni athletes have gone on to distinguished careers in the professional leagues or in coaching. Among these there are currently three NBA stars: Charles Oakley; Terry Davis; and Ben Wallace (named defensive player of the year for 2002). Two of the greatest high school coaches in Richmond were alumni and spent their careers as archrivals: Fred “Cannonball” Cooper at Maggie Walker High School and Max Robinson, Sr. at Armstrong High School. Max Robinson, Sr.’s sons, also VUU students, went on to illustrious careers: Max Robinson, Jr. became the first  African-American news anchorman for a major television network. Randall Robinson became a political and social activist, founding Trans-Africa, Inc., and authoring the best- selling books: The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks; Defending the Spirit; The Reckoning: What Blacks Owe to Each Other; Quitting America; and An Unbroke Agony.

Robert Deane Pharr (’37) (1916-1992), became a notable novelist; the author of The Book of Numbers; S.R.O.; The Soul Murder Case; and Giveadamn Brown.

Leslie Garland Bolling (’24) (1898-1955) was a wood sculptor whose works have received international acclaim.

Roslyn McCallister Brock (’87) went on to make an impact as Program associate for Health and Communications at the W. K. Kellogg Foundation; Director of Business &  Community Developments for Bon Secours Richmond Health Systems; Vice Chair  of the National NAACP; and then Chair of the National NAACP Board of Trustees.
Cherekka Montgomery (’95) is Director of Global Outreach and Senior Policy Analyst with the Feminist Majority Foundation, and the co-author of The African-American Education Data Book, Volume III: The Transition from School to College & School to Work.

Bessye Banks Bearden (1888-1943) who attended Hartshorn Memorial College for two years before graduating from Virginia State, became a noted journalist with the Chicago Defender and one of New York City’s most effective social activists and community  Leaders. Along with her close friend, Mary McLeod Bethune, she was one of the primary omen involved in the switchover of most of the African-American political support from the Republican to the Democratic Party during the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Leontine T. C. Kelly (’60) became the first woman of any major denomination to be Consecrated as a bishop (of the United Methodist Church of San Francisco in 1984).                       

Greek organizations on campus

From the earliest years of the Twentieth Century, Greek societies have been a significant element in campus life at VUU. In point of fact, the oldest African-American Greek organization, the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity had been partially founded by VUU graduate, Eugene Kinckle Jones in 1906. On December 30, 1907, Jones himself  initiated the fraternity’s Gamma Chapter on the campus of his Alma Mater.  Other such organizations have of course followed, and have established themselves as an integral part of the scene at Virginia Union; each preserves its own bit of “territory” on  the campus grounds. Zeta Chapter of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity was set up at VUU on October 28, 1919; Lambda Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma  fraternity on May 9, 1921; and the first sorority chapter on campus was the Nu Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta on May 1, 1926. Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority – nationally the oldest of the Black Women’s Greek  societies – made its appearance at the University on April 7, 1928 when the Alpha Eta Chapter was inaugurated. The Alpha Gamma Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity was chartered on April9, 1927; the Tau Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho sorority on January 29,1930; and the Beta Epsilon Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority on  December 4, 1937.

Chief Executive Officers at VUU Since 1899

Dr. Malcolm MacVicar 1899-1904 (First President)
Dr. George Rice Hovey 1904-1918 (Second President)
Dr. William John Clark 1919- 1941 (Third President)
Dr. John Malcus Ellison 1941-1955  (Fourth President)
Dr. Samuel Dewitt Proctor 1955-1960  (Fifth President)
Dr. Thomas Howard Henderson 1960-1970  (Sixth President)
Dr. Allix Bledsoe James 1970-1979   (Seventh President)
Dr. Dorothy Norris Cowling 1979 (Acting President)
Dr. David Thomas Shannon 1979-1985  (Eighth President)
Mrs. Carolyn Woods Daughtry 1985 (Provost)
Dr. S. Dallas Simmons 1985-1999   (Ninth President)
Dr. Bernard Wayne Franklin 1999-2003   (Tenth President)
Dr. Belinda Childress Anderson 2003-2009   (Eleventh President)
Dr. Claude Grandford Perkins 2009- 2016 (Twelfth President) (sabbatical 2016-2017)
Dr. Joseph F. Johnson 2016-2017 (Acting President)
Dr. Hakim J. Lucas 2017-Present (Thirteenth President)