Tougaloo College was founded in 1869 by the American Missionary Association, a nondenominational Christian organization that sought to provide educational facilities for some of Mississippi’s former slaves. The association’s agent, Allen P. Huggins, found land north of Jackson, and the school bought the Boddie Plantation, including five hundred acres of land and the house, for $10,500. The Mississippi legislature chartered the school, officially named Tougaloo University, on 13 May 1871. The first normal department was organized the following October, and in 1879 the department graduated its first class of three students. The school’s initial board of trustees included Lt. Gov. Ridgley Powers; state legislators H. W. Warren, M. T. Newson, T. W. Stringer, and John R. Lynch; congressmen George McKee and Hiram Rhoades Revels; and representatives of the American Missionary Association.
Frank G. Woodworth served as the school’s president from 1887 to 1912. In 1892 the state withdrew funding from the college. Courses for college credit were first offered in 1897, and in 1901 Traverse S. Crawford received the first bachelor’s degree awarded by the school.
William T. Holmes succeeded Woodworth as president in 1913 and served until 1933. Holmes campaigned strongly for the school, soliciting money from individuals and organizations. Holmes also shifted the curriculum to focus more on liberal arts than on manual training. In 1916 the school’s name was changed to Tougaloo College, and it has subsequently operated under that name except for the 1954–62 period, when it was known as Tougaloo Southern Christian College.
With strong support from Dr. Adam D. Beittel, who served as Tougaloo College’s president from 1960 to 1964, students and faculty played a vital role in the civil rights movement, taking part in such actions as the integration of the Jackson public library. Gladys Noel Bates, a Tougaloo alumna, fought for equal pay for Mississippi’s African American teachers, and Anne Moody wrote of her years as a student and activist at Tougaloo in Coming of Age in Mississippi. Other Tougaloo students and alumni active in the civil rights movement included Joyce Ladner, Lawrence Guyot, and Colia Clark. The school’s Woodworth Chapel hosted speeches by Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, and other civil rights leaders. In 1965, after a year as acting president, George Owens became the college’s first African American president, serving until 1984. US congressman Bennie Thompson studied at Tougaloo, as did Walker Turnbull, founder of the Boys Choir of Harlem.
Tougaloo now produces top professionals in a variety of academic fields, including law, medicine, and education. The college has a distinguished art collection, including paintings and sculptures by Jacob Lawrence, David Driskell, Elizabeth Catlett, Hale Woodruff, and other notable artists. In 2002 the college selected its first female president, Dr. Beverly Wade Hogan, and she has overseen the development of the Tougaloo Council for Undergraduate Research, which offers students opportunities to work with faculty mentors on research projects designed to lead to professional opportunities, as well as programs for elementary and high school students in art, leadership, language arts, math, and science and engineering.
- Clarice T. Campbell and Oscar Allan Rogers Jr., Mississippi: The View from Tougaloo (1979)
- Clarice T. Campbell, “The Founding of Tougaloo College” (master’s thesis, University of Mississippi, 1967)
- Tougaloo College website, www.tougaloo.edu