Morristown College Legacy
An East Tennessee Legacy Site
The MTSU Center for Historic Preservation called the Morristown College site “one of Tennessee’s most powerful physical statements of how the American Civil War transformed the people and places of Appalachia.”
This page is dedicated to the legacy of Morristown College, a formerly historic African American higher education institution located in Morristown, Tennessee. It was founded in 1881 by the National Freedman’s Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church and closed in 1994 after a brief affiliation with Knoxville College. Prior to the Civil Rights movement, Morristown College, Knoxville College, and the Swift Institute were distinctive educational institutions in East Tennessee for African Americans.
Morristown College has a rich legacy. Donations for running the school came from notable national sources such as Andrew Carnegie, the McCormick family of Chicago (International Harvester), and the Kellogg Family of Battle Creek, Michigan (General Mills). For over 100 years, Morristown College graduated generations of African-American leaders, including ministers, college presidents, educators, businessmen, scientists, educators, attorneys, artists, actors, and Civil Rights activists. Morristown College has rooted itself into the lives and legacies of people from around the world.
The site of the college was part of the 1864 Battle of Morristown and then became part of a Federal occupation camp during the last months of the Civil War and the subsequent Reconstruction. A slave market was on the site and a young man named Andrew Fulton was sold there. Mr. Fulton later returned to Morristown College as one of its first professors! What started with missionaries became a grammar school and later a college. It served as an African American high school for Morristown and the surrounding area during segregation. Though the names changed, from Morristown Seminary to Morristown Normal and Industrial College to Morristown College, it remained a successful educational and cultural institution.
In 2016, the City of Morristown purchased the campus property after it sat vacant for many years. Fires, vandalism, and neglect destroyed many campus buildings and the City has demolished the remaining structures on the 52 acre site (it had once been as large as 300 acres). Because the buildings are no longer there, the Tennessee Historical Commission and National Park Service removed the site from the National Register of Historic Places in 2017. The City of Morristown is planning to develop a public park on this site (see below).
VOICES OF MORRISTOWN COLLEGE
The Holston Conference of The United Methodist Church has created a movie about Morristown College to celebrate Black History Month 2017 and to help keep the memory of the college alive.
A LEGACY OF LEARNING
Here is a wonderful history about Morristown College: A School for Freedom (PDF).
Awareness of it’s loss is known nationally: America’s Lost Colleges: Morristown College
Explore more history and see lots of photos: Sometimes Interesting (blog): Morristown College
A NEW PARK TO HONOR THE LEGACY
The East Tennessee Preservation Alliance feels it is of critical importance that the City of Morristown dedicate this new park in honor of Morristown College. We feel the park should be named “Morristown College Park” and the design should tell the story of this important institution. This could take the form of signage, monuments, interactive media, etc. We also encourage that a museum space be developed using a combination of public and private dollars either on the college site or directly adjacent through a partnership with another entity..
Why should the community make this effort? Because this is a story that only Morristown, Tennessee can sufficiently tell. The fate of the institution’s memory lies in the hands of current community leadership. Important decisions need to be made and plans well thought out with public input. Morristown and the entire state of Tennessee has much to be proud of in the history of Morristown College. The loss of the structures is unfortunate, but irreversible. Now is the opportunity to move forward in a way that gives Morristown’s citizens a beautiful new outdoor space to play, relax, and gather while still telling the story of Morristown College and its contributions to the world.