Louisville Municipal College photographs and records
Collection : Louisville Municipal College photographs and records
Date/Extent : ca. 1924-1951; 23 items, 16 linear ft.
Description : Louisville Municipal College carried on a tradition of higher education for African American students in segregated Louisville, Kentucky. The history of Municipal College dated to 1879 when State University, later Simmons University, was founded to educate African American professionals. In 1930 the college was sold to the University of Louisville and became Municipal College under the segregated system.
On February 9, 1931, eighty-three students enrolled in the new Louisville Municipal College for Negroes. Functioning as “a separate institution under the administration of the board of trustees of the University of Louisville,” it was the only full-fledged black liberal arts college in Kentucky and the only one in the nation supported by city funds. In 1920, black Louisvillians had repudiated a $1 million University of Louisville bond issue leading to its defeat at the polls. With assurances of support for black higher education, a similar bond issue passed in 1925 and $100,000 was earmarked for black higher education. When the university’s president died soon after, the promise went unfulfilled. Black leaders urged the University of Louisville in 1926 and 1927 to make good on the promise, to no avail. In the summer of 1929 several exasperated black leaders implored newly arrived University of Louisville president Raymond A. Kent to act and he did.
The university complied with the “separate but equal” legal doctrine of segregation, but it also paid lip service, at least, to the spirit of the “equal” portion. School officials and black community leaders were determined that the Municipal College would offer a sound four-year undergraduate preprofessional liberal arts program. University of Louisville President Kent insisted on a high-quality educational program and in 1936 Municipal College was accorded full accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. For two decades the college would remain a segregated undergraduate division of the University of Louisville. Before it closed in 1951, the institution had enrolled 2,649 students, 512 of whom graduated with degrees in a broad array of academic disciplines.
Following World War II, several factors led to the closing of Louisville Municipal College and the integration of all University of Louisville academic units in 1950 and 1951. The high cost of running two separate liberal arts colleges was a factor, legal barriers to integration were being challenged successfully in the courts, and local private colleges were integrating. The trustees approved a schedule for the desegregation of the university in April 1950. The college would close in the spring of 1951, and the College of Arts and Sciences would enroll its first black students in September of that year.
The collection includes negatives and prints of Municipal College students, faculty and deans, as well as the grounds and buildings. Among the records are those from the dean of the college, as well as faculty minutes, annual reports, development files, budget papers, student records, and ephemera documenting the twenty-year existence of this school. Some corresponding material can be found in the files of the president of University of Louisville. The Municipal College's Steward Hall was designed by celebrated African American architect Samuel Plato.
Repository : Photographic Archives, University Archives
Louisville Municipal College students in from of Steward Hall, ca. 1948.