Blue and Gold Blue and Gold Winter Edition 2020 | Page 8

Far from a ‘consolation prize,’ Bluefield State has graduated generations of young Americans who have gone on to successful careers and professions across the country. of the main line of the Norfolk & Southern railroad. It was not ideal, but it was what they could afford. The main building, Mahood Hall, cost nearly $6,000 to build. The first administrator, Hamilton Hatter, was paid $900; his assistant, Miss Mary Booze, $500. Every penny of that first $8,000 was spent before the doors even opened. But folks persevered and in January 1897, the first forty students – 20 boys and 20 girls – began their higher educations at the Institute, the first such opportunity for African Americans in southern West Virginia. First page of the 1895 BILL authorizing legislation that established the “Bluefield Colored Institute” But the path wasn’t easy. Included in Senate Bill 122 was an appropriation of eight thousand dollars to buy land and erect a building. This was a paltry sum even by late nineteenth century standards. According to Bluefield State College: A Centennial History, “Ominously, the bill contained no assurance of regular annual appropriations, and six long years passed before additional funds were allocated from Charleston.” Nonetheless, funds were managed carefully and stretched to fulfill the promise of the founding legislation. The first Board of Regents paid $1,800 for four acres of steep, rocky land just north 8 BLUE AND GOLD Bluefield State College “was created ... as a result of a county seat dispute between Princeton and Bluefield in the mid-1890’s. The establishment of a college was a way to placate the defeated side.” Princeton Times, April 27, 2012 Edition Bluefield joined dozens of other schools across the South offering a superior education to young African Americans in the face of “separate, but unequal” laws that dominated sections of the country for nearly a hundred years after the Civil War. West Virginia’s constitution was explicit in Article 12, Section 8: “White and colored persons shall not be taught in the same schools.” Leadership and hard work helped Bluefield mature from an institute first to a normal college offering education degrees. Bluefield Colored Institute circa. 1895 Bluefield State College, 1943 Then, in 1943, it became Bluefield State College, a full college offering an array of degreed programs. West Virginia’s constitution was explicit in Article 12, Section 8: “White and colored persons shall not be taught in the same schools” Decades of building and reinforcing a strong foundation enabled the college to absorb and adapt to fundamental changes coming to American society. of white students seeking the same affordable, quality education experienced by their African American counterparts. One hundred and twenty-five years later Bluefield State College stands as a symbol of excellence achieved by perseverance through adversity. It was forged by African Americans determined to realize their part of the American Dream. And later shared by white students who, too, were often the first in their families to experience the liberation of advanced education. It is altogether fitting, then, that on February 21, 2020, Governor Jim Justice ceremonially signed a replica of Senate Bill 122, the original legislation, and acknowledged formally Bluefield State College’s rightful place among West Virginia’s institutions of higher learning. The Civil Rights Movement helped end legalized segregation and discrimination. The G.I. Bill and modernization of the coal industry contributed to the first generations WINTER 2020 9