University of Tennessee

University of Tennessee

The most significant event in the college’s history, however, was not military but political: the passage of the Morrill Act by Congress in 1862 providing for the granting of federally owned lands to states that would establish public agricultural and mechanical colleges.

East Tennessee University was designated in 1869 by the state legislature as the land-grant institution of the state and thereby the recipient of the proceeds of the properties allocated by law to Tennessee. The value of the real estate involved was almost $400,000, providing a boon to the college’s fortunes. 

An unusual by-product of the law was the admission of the first African-American students. The 1869 legislature required that no citizen of the state be disqualified from the benefits of the law by virtue of race. When African-American students were nominated for scholarships under the law, the University accepted them and farmed them out first to Fisk, the black college in Nashville, and then to a local institution, Knoxville College, designating this branch of instruction as the Industrial Department.

The arrangement, unsatisfactory to the state’s black citizens, lasted until 1912 when Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial College was established in Nashville as an African- American institution with land-grant privileges.

The first African Americans were admitted to the graduate and law schools by order of a Federal District Court in 1952.