Southern University was founded in New Orleans in 1879 by prominent local African American politicians who wanted to have a higher education institution dedicated to educating African Americans. The school’s first location was on Calliope Street in New Orleans before moving to the corner of Magazine and Soniat streets in 1886. The school remained in New Orleans until a legislative act passed in 1912 moved it to Baton Rouge. Appointed as president of the University in 1913, Dr. J.S. Clark worked quickly and efficiently to boost the University’s academic standards. Under Dr. Clark’s leadership the University went from 47 students in 1914 to 1,500 in 1934 and the campus expanded from “two dilapidated frame structures” to a 35 acre campus with 37 buildings during the same time period. The beloved Dr. Clark retired in 1943, and his son Felton G. Clark became the new president.
From its humble inception in Baton Rouge in 1914, Southern University would quickly become an indispensable feature of the community. In 1915 the University hosted its first annual Farmers’ Conference with the goal of “helping many of the colored farmers in the state in securing land, homes, better stock, larger yields per acre, a better system of marketing farm commodities, and better educational advantages.” During its first few decades of existence, the University boasted that it “is the only state-supported four-year college for all of the 800,000 Negro citizens of Louisiana.” Besides academia, the University also has a proud and distinguished athletics department for both men and women’s athletics. The annual “Bayou Classic” football game between Southern and Grambling State is a tradition that continues to this day.
Southern also published a newspaper called the Southern University Digest that kept students and citizens informed of news concerning the University and Baton Rouge as a whole. The paper featured a Society section, a sports section, a high school news section, and fraternities, sororities, and clubs section that kept people up on the latest University gossip. During World War 2 and the Korean War, the digest would print updates on alumni that were serving in the military. The paper is part of Amistad Research Center’s School Newspaper Collection. Contact ARC’s reference department for information on how to read it.
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