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From humble beginnings, Kentucky State University has persevered and created an illustrious history on the shoulders of the founders and alumni who came before us. We are proud of our progress and we honor those who paved the way for current and future students to have access to education in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

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1886    State Normal School for Colored Persons established by an act of the Kentucky General Assembly with Berea College alumnus John Henry Jackson elected as president. Jackson was the first president of the Kentucky Negro Education Association (KNEA), the representative body for Kentucky's black teachers and a lobbying group for educational issues.

1887    Constructed at a cost of $7,000, Recitation Hall—now named Jackson Hall in honor of the school’s first president—was the first and now-oldest building on campus. Classes began there on October 11, with three teachers and 55 students enrolled.

1890    State Normal School for Colored Persons became a land-grant college and over the next seven years the departments of home economics, agriculture, mechanics were established. The school’s first class of five students were graduated the same year.

1893    A high school was established.

1898    James Edward Givens becomes the school’s second president. A Greenwood, Virginia native, Givens was a graduate of Harvard University. His presidency was marked by a significant increase in the school’s land holdings, including the purchase of adjourning farmland, which would prove critical in the future.

1900    James Shelton Hathaway becomes the school’s third president. A former schoolteacher and newspaper publisher, Hathaway earned both A.B. and A.M. degrees from Berea College, and an M.D. from Louisville National Medical College. His presidency was marked by significant academic progress and facility improvement at the institution.

1902    Name was changed to Kentucky Normal and Industrial Institute.

1907    John Henry Jackson returns as president. During his second term as president, the physical plant was enlarged tenfold and additional land purchases were requested.

1908    Hume Hall was built and named in honor of Edgar Enoch Hume, a physician, legislator from Anderson County, Kentucky, and mayor of Frankfort, whose service to the school included political support of its founding and board of trustee service on the school’s board for 17 years.

1909    Paul William Lawrence Jones established a football team, which began the school’s first intercollegiate athletics. Born in 1878 at Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, Jones’ more than two-decade-long career at the school began in 1907; he later became a professor of history and academic dean at the school. Having earned the nickname of "Paul" from classmates because of his early love of history and interest in John Paul Jones, he was a 1898 graduate of Kentucky Normal School for Colored Persons, where along with teaching and administrative duties, he also helped form and served as coach and manager of early baseball, football, and track teams at the school, which earned him the title of "Father of Athletics."

1910    James Shelton Hathaway returns as president.

1912     Green Pinckney Russell becomes the school’s sixth president. Born in Logan County, Kentucky and educated at Berea College (A.B.; A.M.) and at Wilberforce University (LL.D.), Russell was the first licensed African American teacher in Lexington, Kentucky—where Russell Elementary School was named in his honor. During this tenure, the institution matured from a vocational school offering secondary education to a four-year college and gained modern fiscal support from the state legislature due to Russell’s pursuance of larger instructional programs.

1923    Francis Marion Wood becomes the school’s seventh president. Having taught in various black schools in Kentucky, Wood worked as principal of Western High School in Paris, Kentucky 12 years before assuming the presidency of his alma mater.  A 1901 graduate of the Normal School for Colored Persons where he received his B. PED, Wood later received an A.M. from the Hampton Institute. As the first and only alumnus to become president of Kentucky State University, he is credited with moving the school toward true collegiate status. 

1924     Green Pinckney Russell returns as president.

1929    Rufus Ballard Atwood becomes the school’s ninth president. A Kentucky native, Atwood entered Fisk University in 1915 before enlisting in World War I, gallantly serving with the Signal Corps of the all-black 92nd Division and being awarded the Bronze Star for bravery the day before the Armistice. Following his graduation from Fisk in 1920 with a bachelor’s degree in biology, Atwood earned another undergraduate degree at Iowa State Agriculture and Mechanical College—now Iowa State University— in 1923. The same year, he accepted a position as professor of agriculture at Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College in Texas—now Prairie View A&M University—before accepting the presidency of Kentucky State College for Colored Persons at just 32 years old. His presidential tenure was marked by transforming the school into a college beyond name only. Having set high standards, Atwood secured the college’s accreditation after a mere two years at its helm. In addition to securing campus improvements through the New Deal’s Public Works Administration and the Julius Rosenwald Fund, Atwood continued his leadership to enhance both the intellectual and physical environment of Kentucky’s only publicly-funded black college throughout his 33-year career as president.

          School award’s its first Bachelor of Arts degrees.

          Kentucky Hall is constructed.

1929    Leoda Lynn of Paducah, Kentucky becomes the first Miss Kentucky State. Born in Paducah, where she graduated from Lincoln High School, Lynn was a sophomore in college when her boyfriend and future husband, William Goodwin, encouraged her to enter the new popularity contest that was being held on campus. Goodwin represented her boyfriend's club, A.P.B., a fraternity. After her marriage, Goodwin returned to college and earned her B.A. in mathematics from Kentucky State and her M.A. in education from the University of Kentucky. She was a math teacher at old Dunbar High School and Bryan Station High School in Lexington, Kentucky.

1930s   The decade was marked by the establishment of black Greek-Letter fraternities and sororities on Kentucky State’s campus. The Beta Zeta Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. was chartered on February 25, 1933. The Beta Mu Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. was chartered on April 28, 1933. The Alpha Pi Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. was chartered on April 30, 1934. The Psi Psi Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. was chartered on November 9, 1934. The Xi Lambda Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. was chartered on February 13, 1935. The Alpha Upsilon Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. was chartered on March 1, 1935. The Eta Alpha Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. was chartered on April 20, 1935.

1931     School is approved as an “A” class negro college by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

1934, 1935 & 1937    School’s football teams were national champions.

1938    School’s name is changed to Kentucky State College for Negroes.

1948    McCullin Hall built and named in honor of the memory of Lt. James McCullin, a Kentucky State graduate of the class of 1942. An Air Medal and Purple Heart recipient, Lt. McCullin, a Tuskegee Airman in the famous 99 Fighter Squadron, was killed in action over Sicily in 1943—making him the first Kentucky State WWII graduate killed in WW2, and one of two of the first black pilots ever to be killed in combat. His aircraft nor remains were found.

1952    School’s name is changed to Kentucky State College. George Washington Carver Hall is constructed.

1954    Geraldine Ogden becomes the first white student to enroll at Kentucky State College on October 31.

1958    Kentucky State College becomes a full member of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

1960    Students sit-in. Paul G. Blazer Library constructed.

1962    Carl McClellan Hill becomes the college’s 10th president. A nationally-renowned chemistry scholar, Hill received his B.S. from Hampton Institute, an M.S. and a Ph.D. from Cornell University, an I.L.D. from the University of Kentucky and an LL.D. from the University of Louisville. His tenure was marked by the college being raised to university status. The following year the first graduate students enrolled in Kentucky State University's School of Public Affairs. The addition of four undergraduate departments, a graduate school, and a special African American collection to the library occurred during Hill's term as president. Also, major construction and additions to 12 major buildings on campus and the renovation of several others occurred during Hill's presidency.

1964    The cross-country team wins the NCAA College Division II Championship under the leadership of William Exum.

1965    Bradford Hall is constructed. Named in honor of David H. Bradford, who served Kentucky State as a member of the college faculty, head of the Department of History and Political Science, college registrar, and dean of instruction over the course of 33 years.

1966    The Special Services and Upward Bound programs begin at Kentucky State.

1967    A two-year nursing program is established.

1969 - 1970      The Memorial Athletic Complex is constructed and the Jones Field House is added to it the following year.

1970 - 1972      The men’s basketball team three-peat the NAIA championship.

1971     The Carl M. Hill Student Center is constructed.

1972    Kentucky State College is raised to university status and an Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corp unit begins.

1975    William A. Butts becomes 11th president. A political scientist, Butts received several B.S. degrees from Mississippi Valley State University,  an M.A. and a Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University, and an LL.D. degree from Morehead State University and from Daniel Payne College. His tenure was marked by several major campus facility enhancement projects and the construction of a new academic administration building.

1979    Alumni Stadium is constructed.

1980 - 1981      Alumni defend Kentucky State University from criticism, ward off attempts to close institution. They stage a peaceful protest march on the state Capitol. Kentucky State University enhancement plan developed.

1981    The Kentucky State College women’s basketball team wins the first NAIA women's basketball title in 1981. The team defeated Texas Southern 73-67 for the championship in Kansas City, Missouri. The team members included Carolyn Walker, the tournament's most valuable player and was named first team All-Tournament, Pam King, who was named second team All-Tournament; and Angelia Barnett was named second team All-Tournament. Other team members included Paula Jennels, Felicia Jordan, Darlene Brown and Rhonda Beauford. The team was initially coached by Cornieth Y. Russell, then replaced by Ron Mitchell, who was also the school's athletic director, who was named NAIA Coach of the Year after the tournament. 

1982    Raymond A. Burse becomes 12th president. A native of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, Burse received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and math from Centre College and a law degree from Harvard University. His tenure was marked by record enrollment, more than $60 million in capital improvements, and significant enhancements in the academic and financial operations of the institution, including the establishment of the Whitney M. Young Jr. College of Leadership Studies. 

1983    Whitney M. Young Jr. College of Leadership Studies opened.

1986    The University celebrated its centennial anniversary and purchased the Research and Demonstration Farm.

1990    John T. Wolfe Jr. becomes 13th president. Wolfe received a bachelor's degree in English education from Chicago State University, a master's degree in English education and a doctoral degree in linguistics from Purdue University. His tenure was marked by strong support of the Paul G. Blazer Library and was responsible for significantly increasing the number of library starting positions at the school.

1991    Mary L. Smith becomes 14th president and first woman president and had most immediately served as Kentucky State University's vice-president for academic affairs. Smith completed her graduate study at the University of Kentucky, where she earned a Master of Arts and a Doctor of Education degree in curriculum and instruction. Her tenure was marked by the initial accreditation of the master’s in public administration. She spearheaded the establishment of the Center of Excellence for the Study of Kentucky African Americans, which identifies, collects, preserves, and disseminates information and materials about notable Kentucky African Americans and the African American heritage and experience.

1992    William Exum Athletic Center built. Born in Illinois, William Exum was the first African American varsity football player at the University of Wisconsin, where he was both an outstanding track star and student and completed his bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees. In 1949, Exum was hired as head of the Kentucky State’s physical education department and later was made head of the athletics department, sometimes coaching various sports teams. In addition to coaching the Kentucky State men's cross country team to an NCAA Division II championship in 1964, he was the manager of the United States Track and Field teams at the 1972 and 1976 Olympics. Inducted into the National Association of College Directors of Athletics Hall of Fame in 1978, Exum retired from Kentucky State in 1980.

1993    Cooperative Extension Building built. This 25,000 square foot building houses five conference rooms and a demonstration kitchen with satellite downlink capabilities, video production and print studios, and 27 offices.

1998    George W. Reid becomes 15th president. During his tenure as president, the Council on Postsecondary Education approved the creation of Kentucky State University's first program of distinction, an honor that was given to the aquaculture program. A new master's degree program in that area, entitled aquaculture/aquatic sciences, was also approved by CPE.

          Whitney M. Young Jr. statue erected at the front entrance of campus. A native of Shelbyville, Kentucky, Whitney Moore Young Jr. was an American civil rights leader. He spent most of his career working to end employment discrimination in the United States and turning the National Urban League from a relatively passive civil rights organization into one that aggressively worked for equitable access to socioeconomic opportunity for the historically disenfranchised. The sculptor of the statue is another Kentucky State alumnus and fellow member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Ed Hamilton, who is best known for his statue, Spirit of Freedom, an African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C. Hamilton says that he was familiar with Young’s role in the struggle for civil rights and was honored to be able to bring Young back to life and return him to the Kentucky State campus. He wanted to show Young in an attitude of welcome, which is why he sculpted Young with his hand extended.

1998 & 2000     Kentucky State’s golf teams won the National Minority Intercollegiate Golf Championship.

1999    Aquaculture became Kentucky State’s program of distinction. Initiated in the mid-1980s, the Division of Aquaculture was originally exclusively dedicated to research and extension activities. Expanded via experimental course offerings, and later with an undergraduate minor in aquaculture/aquatic science, the Council on Postsecondary Education approved Kentucky State University to offer a Master of Science degree in aquaculture/aquatic science in 1999. The program addresses all three of the traditional land-grant university roles: research, teaching, and extension. The division has class offerings over the full spectrum of aquaculture, including reproduction, nutrition, water quality, physiology, production systems, economics and marketing, and fish disease.

          Chappell Building built, named in honor or Roy M. Chappell. A Tuskegee Airman, Chappell was born in Williamsburg, Kentucky. Chappell attended Kentucky State College, where he majored in chemistry before leaving his junior year to join the service during World War II. His aviation career began when he was a volunteer with the 477th Bombardment Group, and he later served at Godman Field at Fort Knox, Kentucky. He participated in the Freedman Field Mutiny when 104 African American officers protested for equal treatment in the military. After his military service, Chappell settled in Chicago, graduated from Roosevelt College—now Roosevelt University—and taught elementary school for 30 years.

2004    Mary Evans Sias becomes 16th president. A native of Jackson, Mississippi, Sias graduated cum laude from Tougaloo College, and earned her Master of Science degree and Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She also holds an M.B.A. degree in management from Abilene Christian College of Dallas. Sias’ tenure as president was marked by strong support of salary adjustments for faculty and staff, increased funding for the school and the launch of its first capital campaign. Kentucky State also experienced new program development, including new graduate programs in business administration, environmental studies, computer science technology and special education. 

2005    Kentucky State purchased 320 acres in Henry County for its Environmental Education Center.

2007    The School of Education introduced the Master of Special Education, Kentucky State's first completely online academic program.

2008   The new Whitney M. Young Jr. Residence Hall was built. The former Young Hall was renamed The Halls.

2009   Kentucky State's university-wide accreditation reaffirmed by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

2010    School of Business accreditation reaffirmed.

          Center for Sustainability of Farms and Families built.

2011     College of Agriculture, Food Science and Sustainable Systems established. It is comprised of five departments: Agriculture & Natural Resources, Aquaculture, Environmental Studies & Sustainable Systems, Food & Animal Science, and Family & Consumer Science.

Groundbreaking held for the Dr. Henry E. Cheaney Legacy Plaza. Born in Henderson, Kentucky, Cheaney received his undergraduate degree from Kentucky State in 1936, his master's degree in history from the University of Michigan in 1941, and his Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago in 1961. Cheaney was a leading authority on the history of African Americans in the Commonwealth, who retired from Kentucky State University following a 46-year career as a professor. Credited for establishing the university’s African American history collection, his personal collection was used for the writing of the two-volume history of Blacks in Kentucky. A founding member of the Xi Lambda Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Incorporated at Kentucky State, Cheaney also served as boxing coach.

2013    Rosenwald Center for Families and Children opened.

2014    Raymond M. Burse becomes 17th president.

2015    The university’s 300-acre farm is named the Harold R. Benson Research and Demonstration Farm in honor of pioneering 1890 Land-Grant administrator Harold R. Benson. His 36-year career as the longest-tenured land-grant administrator began at Kentucky State in 1975. Added to these duties was direction of the Extension program from 1975 to 2011, and the research program from 1985 to 2011. Despite moving nine times, the once-dormant Land Grant Program was resurrected under his leadership. Benson also created the aquaculture research program, established the university’s 300-acre research and demonstration farm, worked to renovate the historic Atwood building into the Atwood Research Facility, and directed efforts to build and design the Cooperative Extension Building. In the process of doing so, he revolutionized the agriculture research and education programs at Kentucky State University.

2017     M. Christopher Brown II becomes 18th president. Brown has a Ph.D. in higher education from The Pennsylvania State University, an M.S. in education from the University of Kentucky, and a B.S. in elementary education from South Carolina State University. Brown has set a bold agenda to move Kentucky State University forward. Building its future on the four pillars of success—access, academics, agriculture and athletics—President Brown’s priorities include accreditation and accountability, responding to a shifting marketplace, academic alignment for sustainability, and fiscal health and vitality. In keeping with this vision, Brown founded the Atwood Institute for Race, Education, and the Democratic Ideal; its work is a tripartite mission to honor diverse experiences, dismantle negative stereotypes, and train emergent leaders.

          Kentucky State conferred its first doctoral degrees with the inaugural graduating class of Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

2018    The Presidential Green Ribbon Commission on Academic Prioritization and Budget Alignment conducted a comprehensive academic program review.

          The Kentucky State University Board of Regents voted to approve the creation of  The Center for Research on the Eradication of Education Disparities (C.R.E.E.D. Center) to explore solutions to close educational gaps through research, educator training and human engagement.

2019    The University was a finalist for HBCU Digest’s HBCU of the Year award and won the top awards for best Board, best HBCU marching band and best alumni publication.

          The pedestrian walkway that crosses over East Main Street, connecting the north and south sides of campus, was completed and named the Mary E. Sias Pedestrian Walkway in honor of the service and leadership of the 16th president of Kentucky State University.

          Thorobred fountain installed.

          The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) reaffirmed Kentucky State University’s accreditation for the next 10 years.

2020      Quattro Cavalli statue installed.

          Mary L. Smith Clock Tower installed.

          In the very early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kentucky State University established the COVID-19 Student Emergency Fund to assist students in need financially. Kentucky State also bridged the gap to accessing online courses by providing laptops, hotspots for internet service and access to online textbooks.

            Kentucky State University rededicated the Rufus B. Atwood Agricultural Center after a $7.5 million USDA facility grant program enabled renovations to include modern classrooms, labs, offices and ample seating for studying areas, as well as designated study rooms.

          Kentucky State University became the first HBCU and only university in Kentucky to be nominated and awarded membership to the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC).

2021      The Kentucky State University Board of Regents approved a new strategic plan entitled “Vision 2025: Racing Toward Our Highest Potential.”