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Claflin University [South Carolina] (1869 - )

Claflin University Football Team, 1895
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Claflin University, located in Orangeburg, South Carolina, was founded in 1869 by Alonzo Webster (1818-1887), a Vermont minister.  Webster came to South Carolina to teach at the Baker Bible Institute in Charleston training African American ministers for the Methodist Episcopal Church (today the United Methodist Church). In 1869 he received a charter from the state of South Carolina to establish a college that would prepare freed slaves for the responsibilities of citizenship. The first charter banned discrimination among the faculty, staff and students, making the Academy the first South Carolina university open to all regardless of race.  Nonetheless, all of the students at the Academy were African American.

The institution is named after Boston philanthropist, Lee Claflin (1791-1871) and his son, Massachusetts Governor William Claflin (1818-1905), who provided most of the funds to establish the campus.  In 1870 Claflin University merged with Baker Bible Institute, and two years later the South Carolina General Assembly merged Claflin with the South Carolina State Agriculture and Mechanical Institute. In 1896, however, the General Assembly recreated a separate agricultural and mechanical institute that would eventually become South Carolina State University.  By now both institutions were relocated to Orangeburg, with Claflin occupying the campus of the former Orangeburg Female Academy.  In 1879 the first college class graduated from Claflin. It is believed that Robert Charles Bates (c. 1872 - unknown), a Claflin instructor and the first certified African American architect, designed a number of the university’s buildings as the school was expanding in the late 1890s.  The school continued to develop a liberal arts curriculum with endowments from Methodist groups and was accredited in 1948 by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

In 2009 Claflin University had approximately 1,800 students, with 32% male and 68% female.  The University offers a Master of Business Administration (MBA), a Master of Science in Biotechnology and 33 undergraduate majors.

“The Claflin History”, Claflin University,; Earl M. Middleton and Joy W. Barnes, Knowing Who I Am: A Blakc Entrepreneur’s Memoir of Struggle and Victory in the South (Orangeburg, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 2008); Dreck Spurlock Wilson, African American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary, 1865-1945 (New York: Routledge, 2004).


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