Championing Equality and Academic Excellence
Founded in 1855 by abolitionists, Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, was the first interracial and coeducational college in the South, educating “persons of good character” regardless of race, class or gender. This continued until 1904, when the Kentucky General Assembly targeted Berea by passing the “Day Law” prohibiting interracial education in private institutions. Although Berea College fought the decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the court upheld the law in 1908. In response, Berea paid tuition for its students to attend all-black colleges. College trustees also established the Lincoln Institute near Louisville to provide a vocational education to African-American students. The forced segregation continued until 1950, when the law was amended.
Activism and social justice are embedded in Berea’s DNA. During the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, more than 50 Berea students joined Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama, to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge toward Montgomery. Closer to campus, other students marched on the Capitol in Frankfort, staged sit-ins and founded the Black Student Union. Many prominent African-American leaders and civil rights figures have connections to Berea College. One of those was Carter G. Woodson (1903) who created “Negro History Week” in 1926, which eventually expanded to become Black History Month.