Desegregation of Private Colleges

The desegregation of Mississippi’s public universities and colleges is well documented; however, desegregation among the major white private colleges is less well known. All of these colleges were sponsored by one of the major evangelical Christian denominations. The principles of traditional Christianity, the proximity of some white colleges to historically black Rust College and Tougaloo College, and the lack of state sponsorship added unique dynamics to the desegregation stories of these colleges. The historically whites-only private colleges that faced issues of desegregation in the 1960s included Blue Mountain College (Southern Baptist), Belhaven College (Presbyterian), Millsaps College (Methodist), Mississippi College (Southern Baptist), Clarke College (Southern Baptist), and William Carey College (Southern Baptist).

In 1965 Millsaps became the first private college to desegregate, and significant evidence shows that many Millsaps supporters wanted to do so sooner. Many Millsaps students and faculty had a special relationship with their counterparts at Tougaloo. In 1965 Millsaps administrators called a meeting of representatives of all five of the state’s white evangelical four-year colleges, seeking a concerted effort to eliminate racial barriers at the same time. The Millsaps delegation was supported only by the delegation from William Carey College, which began admitting black students in the fall of 1966. Just down the street from Millsaps, Belhaven did not desegregate until 1967, becoming perhaps the last Presbyterian college in the United States to desegregate. Blue Mountain College in Tippah County was a women’s college, so the classic segregationist fear of black males interacting with white females did not apply. However, only Mississippi College desegregated later than Blue Mountain, which did so in 1968. Clarke College, a Southern Baptist junior college in Scott County, closed in the 1970s for several reasons, one of which was desegregation.

If the Methodists, especially Millsaps College, had the best record on integration, Southern Baptists clearly had the worst. Mississippi College was one of the last private colleges in the country to drop its segregation policy and did not do so until the 1969–70 school year. Moreover, William Carey College would have seemed to be in a good position to maintain segregation because black students in the Hattiesburg area had already gained access to the University of Southern Mississippi. Nonetheless, William Carey was the first Baptist college in the state to desegregate, and by Mississippi standards, it also integrated more fully in the late 1960s than other private colleges, even Millsaps. Soon after black students began attending William Carey, many of them became active in the college’s extracurricular events and organizations.

The integration of Blue Mountain College involves several factors that were not present at any of the other schools. In addition to having an exclusively female student body, the college was considerably smaller and more rural than any of the state’s other private institutions. This created a unique family-like atmosphere that included students, faculty, administrators, and staff, including African American janitorial and food service employees. Some of the first black students at Blue Mountain College were the daughters of employees. Nonetheless, no black students moved into the dorms until 1978.

Further Reading

  • Joel A. Alvis Jr., Religion and Race: Southern Presbyterians, 1946–1983 (1994)
  • James F. Gordon, A History of Belhaven College, 1894–1981 (1983)
  • Paul Harvey, Freedom’s Coming: Religious Culture and the Shaping of the South from the Civil War through the Civil Rights Era (2005)
  • Dwayne Keith Jones, “An Oasis of Liberalism and Academic Freedom in Jim Crow Mississippi: Millsaps College and Its Desegregation” (master’s thesis, Mississippi State University, 2000)
  • Charles Marsh, God’s Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights (1997)
  • Richard Aubrey McLemore and Nannie Pitts McLemore, The History of Mississippi College (1979)
  • Mark Newman, Getting Right with God: Southern Baptists and Desegregation, 1945–1995 (2001)

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Desegregation of Private Colleges
  • Author
  • Keywords desegregation, private colleges
  • Website Name Mississippi Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date February 20, 2020
  • Publisher Center for Study of Southern Culture
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 13, 2018