Fisk University of Nashville, Tennessee was founded in 1865 by John Ogden, Reverend Erastus Cravath, and Reverend Edward Smith. It was named after General Clinton B. Fisk of the Tennessee Freedman’s Bureau. The school held its first classes in 1866 at the Union army barracks with students ranging from ages seven to seventy.
It had only been two years since President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, legally ending slavery, that Fisk University opened its doors to black students. Interestingly, the school was incorporated one year later, inviting any student of any race or gender to experience the curriculum.
One of the most important elements that developed from Fisk is the Fisk Jubilee Singers. The group was formed in October 1871 by a group of ambitious students. The singers took all of the school’s money on the road in hopes to raise enough to keep the doors open for years to come. They were successful and requested all over the world, singing for prominent people like Queen Victoria, Mark Twain and William Lloyd Garrison. Jubilee Hall, named in their honor, is now a national historic landmark. Every October 6th, (which marks the first day that the first Fisk Jubilee singers set out to represent their alma mater), the current members pay homage to the pioneer group by holding a special ceremony at the gravesides of their earliest lead vocalists.
Fisk University holds several firsts in academic history. In 1930, Fisk became the first HBCU to gain accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. It was also the first black institution to be placed on the approved lists of the Association of American Universities and the American Association of University Women.
Historic leaders that have held an impression in the African American diaspora have called Fisk University their alma mater. W.E.B. Dubois, one of the leading educators, philosophers and co-founders of the NAACP was an 1888 graduate of Fisk. Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskegee University, sent all of his children to the college for their baccalaureate education. Other notable graduates include journalist Nikki Giovanni, John Hope Franklin, Carolyn Reid-Wallace, Hazel O’ Leary, Niara Sudarkasa, Judith Jamison, Mathew Knowles, Kym Whitley and U.S. Representative John Lewis.