South Carolina Black History: Claflin University

/, Uncategorized/South Carolina Black History: Claflin University

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.


Claflin College band, circa 1900


Past Presidents include:

  • Dr. Alonzo Webster (1870-1872)
  • Dr. Edward Cooke (1872–1884)
  • Dr. Lewis M. Dunton (1884–1922)
  • Dr. Joseph B. Randolph, First African-American president (1922 1944) 
  • Dr. John J. Seabrook, First alumni president (1945–1955)
  • Dr. Hubert V. Manning (1956–1984)
  • Dr. Oscar A. Rogers, Jr. (1984–1994)

Dr. Henry N. Tisdale is the current President of the University, and has been in the position for 22 years.Claflin University is now recognized as one of the premier liberal arts institutions in the nation. Claflin continues to grow and change under Tisdale’s leadership.



Main Hall, Claflin College

Tingley Memorial Hall (front facade, ca. 2007), Claflin University

Tingley Memorial Hall (front facade, ca. 2007), Claflin University


Leave A Comment