Our current blog series on HBCUs represented in the Amistad Research Center’s school newspaper collection shows, collectively, the integral role they have played in educational history of the United States. We focus on specific colleges and universities that offer interesting insights into student life, events, and unique school histories. This week we highlight Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Bennett College, founded in 1837 in the basement of Warnersville Methodist Episcopal Church and sponsored by The Freedmen’s Aid Society in 1874, was a normal school dedicated to educating former slaves and training teachers. Initially, the college was co-educational and offered African Americans courses at the high school and college level. The land for the permanent campus was purchased by freedmen in 1878, and with a philanthropic donation of $10,000 by New York businessman Lyman Bennett, the school was named Bennett Seminary. In 1888, the seminary’s first African American president, the Reverend Charles N. Grandison was elected. Grandison spearheaded a drive for Bennett to become an accredited four-year college in 1889.
The Phelps-Stokes Foundation conducted a survey in 1916 and recommended that Bennett College become an educational institution exclusively for women. The Women’s Home Missionary Society had supported women at the college for a number of years and had been seeking to establish a women’s only four-year college for African American women, since no such institution existed at that time. After a number of years, site studies, and fundraising, the Women’s Home Missionary Society and the North Carolina Board of Education transitioned Bennett College into a women’s college in 1926. Bennett College became known within the black community as the Vassar College of the south, and its faculty, staff, and students were sought from a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Graduates of the college are known as Bennett Belles.
The Amistad Research Center has 12 issues of the school’s student newspaper, the Bennett Banner, from 1931 to 1948. The first issue was published in October 1931, and highlighted dramatics and sports, student council activities and politics, and campus living and social life. Unique to the early issues of the publication are political, economic, and social themes that are not seen in the Bennett Banner’s later issues. The Bennett Banner from 1931 and 1932 offered student news and opinions focused on post-World War 1 disarmament, world peace, and of course the worldwide economic depression. In an article from the newspaper a student wrote, “In the world of today it is no unknown fact that difficult problems need solving. Greed and avarice are tolerated by too many men. War and crime devastate the nations by one means or another. Graft and corruption are everywhere. Bread lines grow no shorter. Unemployment throughout the world becomes more and more an immense impediment to progress. The child of today with negative physical, mental, and intellectual stamina will offer what type of adult tomorrow! Dare one ask? A disarmament conference meets in Geneva to moderate preparation for war and one cartoonist shows a large number of the members on the side anxiously poring into a catalogue of new war supplies. It is unfair to state what this conference has done or is doing unless one knows. The point of contact is: How few men are earnestly, seriously employing all their energies toward peace!”
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