Claflin History

Claflin University was founded in 1869 by Methodist missionaries to prepare freed slaves to take their rightful places as full American citizens. The University takes its name from two Methodist churchmen, Massachusetts Governor William Claflin and his father, Boston philanthropist Lee Claflin, who provided a large part of the funds to purchase the campus.

Dr. Alonzo Webster (1869-1874)

WebsterDr. Alonzo Webster, a minister and educator from Vermont and a member of Claflin’s Board of Trustees, secured Claflin’s charter in 1869. The charter forbids discrimination of any sort among faculty, staff and students, making Claflin the first South Carolina university open to all students regardless of race, class, or gender. Claflin opened its doors with Dr. Webster as its first president. He came to South Carolina to teach at the Baker Biblical Institute in Charleston, an institution established by the S.C. Mission Conference of 1866 of the Methodist Episcopal Church for the education of African-American ministers. In 1870, the Baker Biblical Institute merged with Claflin University. An act by the South Carolina General Assembly on March 12, 1872, designated the South Carolina State Agricultural and Mechanical Institute as a part of Claflin University. In 1896, the S.C. General Assembly passed an act of separation, which severed the State Agricultural and Mechanical Institute from Claflin University and established a separate institution, which eventually became South Carolina State University. 

Dr. Edward Cooke (1874-1884) 

CookeDr. Edward Cooke left the presidency of Lawrence College to become the second president of Claflin. During his administration, a disastrous fire destroyed the FiskBuilding, a proud monument designed by Robert Bates who is recognized as the first certified black architect in the United States. In 1879, the first college class graduated. By 1878, a new Main Building was constructed for the campus. Along with rebuilding the campus, President Cook introduced a significant number of academic innovations. The university experienced enrollment of students from all over the state, an increase in faculty and curriculum, the introduction of extracurricular activities, and the installation of a replacement library, which at one point held more than 1,200 volumes. President Cooke’s tenure proved very productive, as the institution continued to prosper. The Board proposed the addition of a school of law and a school of medicine. The chair of the law school was former South Carolina Supreme Court Justice Jonathan Jasper Wright. 

Dr. Lewis M. Dunton (1884-1922) 

DuntonThe Reverend Dr. Lewis M. Dunton, former vice president and development officer, was Claflin’s third president. Dr. Dunton, a graduate of Syracuse University, was a practical educator. Under his administration, the law department was set up under the Honorable J. J. Wright, a former associate justice of the S. C. Supreme Court; graduates were admitted to the South Carolina Bar. Consistent with President Dunton’s philosophy to “train the mind to think, the hand to execute, and the soul to feel,” expansion of Claflin became one of his first priorities, along with an expanded curriculum. As a result of expansion beyond the curriculum, Claflin’s musical scholars became known nationally. Tours and recitals by the Claflin Singers, who traveled the country, proved profitable for the institution. In 1888, with the help of longtime supporter William Claflin, the trustees endorsed the president’s plan to expand the physical plant, adding several new buildings to the campus. These buildings, erected on newly available land, made it possible for Claflin to offer additional training in the areas of industry and trade.  

Dr. Joseph B. Randolph (1922-1945)

RandolphDr. Joseph B. Randolph, Claflin’s fourth president, was the former president of Samuel Houston College and former dean of Wiley College. As a professional educator, he placed emphasis on a complete liberal arts education that would inspire students intellectually, culturally and spiritually in preparation for launching them into varied fields. Dr. Randolph’s determination for Claflin to attain higher academic standards resulted in an increase in the institution’s enrollment. The student body numbered 600 in 1928, double the number of students in 1923. The confidence with which President Randolph set about implementing his academic, extracurricular, and cultural programs demonstrated his optimism for Claflin’s advancement. Although his tenure saw no expansion of the physical plant, nominal improvements in equipment of the physical plant and minimal improvements in equipment and facilities, Dr. Randolph’s great success resulted from his ability to preserve Claflin and to protect her from closure during one of the roughest times in the history of Claflin University and the United States.

Dr. John J. Seabrook (1945-1955)

SeabrookDr. John J. Seabrook, director of Morgan Christian Center, Baltimore, Maryland, became the fifth president of Claflin. Dr. Seabrook persuaded the South Carolina Annual Conference to increase substantially its annual giving to Claflin. The endowment was increased, and the curriculum was expanded. Dr. Seabrook, much in fashion with the rising Civil Rights Movement, assumed a proud and spirited posture. He envisioned a “Bigger and Better Claflin” that would include a broader curriculum and a larger faculty with greater qualifications. Bringing a new enthusiasm to the institution, Dr. Seabrook began realizing his vision for his alma mater. Only one year after assuming office, President Seabrook began expanding and improving the physical plant. The Alumni Athletic Field was added to the University. The T. Willard Lewis Chapel was modernized, and the dining hall was converted into a cafeteria to increase its seating capacity. In 1947, the college infirmary, Pearson’s Music Studio and the Davage Heating Plant also became impressive additions to the physical plant. As part of Dr. Seabrook’s plan for academic expansion, the first summer school session was held in 1947. The following year, Claflin was approved for membership in the Association of American Colleges. 

Dr. Hubert V. Manning (1956-1984) 

ManningDr. Hubert V. Manning was appointed Claflin’s sixth president. He was a Methodist minister and former associate professor at Claflin. Under Dr.  Manning’s leadership the faculty was strengthened, the endowment increased and the physical plant was significantly expanded. President Manning’s achievements as an educator significantly enhanced Claflin’s reputation. His involvement in the academic activities of the institution, beginning with the accreditation of Claflin and the launching of programs and projects to improve and expand the institution’s faculty and curriculum, remained constant until the end of his administration. Dr. Manning retired at the end of the 1984 academic year. May 4, 1984, was declared “Dr. H. V. Manning Day” by Orangeburg Mayor E. O. Pendarvis. This was the town’s tribute to the president for “building up an admirable educational institution” and for “furthering educational opportunities for area youth.” By then, he had given Claflin 28 years of devoted service. 

Dr. Oscar A. Rogers Jr. (1984-1994)

RogersDr. Oscar A. Rogers, Jr., former dean of the Graduate School at Jackson State University, became Claflin’s seventh president. Under his administration the enrollment and endowment increased, an art collection was established, the Grace Thomas Kennedy building was constructed, the financial base of the college was improved, and two capital campaigns were completed. Renovations to and expansions of Claflin’s physical plant were carried out under Dr. Rogers’ administration. As had been planned, Wilson Hall was demolished, and the construction of a temporary women’s dorm was underway. Renovations also took place on the High-Rise Dormitory and on the Lee Building, where major interior work restored the beauty while retaining the structure’s architectural integrity. Throughout the Rogers administration, Claflin’s alumni increased their membership as well as their  contributions to the alumni organization. They became significant supporters of the institution in many respects, and between 1986 and the end of the Rogers era, alumni contributed almost $2 million to Claflin. Through the rest of the 1980s, Claflin reported one success story after another in fundraising, student growth, and additional projects and programs on the campus as the result of grants and awards from government, private corporations and foundations. 

Dr. Henry N. Tisdale (1994-2019)

TisdaleDr. Henry N. Tisdale, Claflin’s eighth president, was former senior vice president and chief academic officer at Delaware State University. Dr. Tisdale brought a wealth of scholarly achievement and demonstrated leadership to the University. He declared academic excellence the number-one priority for Claflin. His first steps, designed to enhance the academic environment, included the establishment of the Claflin Honors College and the Center for Excellence in Science and Mathematics and the national accreditation of more than a dozen academic programs including the Master of Business Administration, the Master of Science in Biotechnology, the Master of Education and the Master of Science in Criminal Justice. Facilities enhancements included construction of the Living and Learning Center, Legacy Plaza, the Student Residential Center, Claflin Commons, the Music Center, the James and Dorothy Z. Elmore Chapel, and the Molecular Science Research Center. Claflin University opened a Forensics Science Center which, in a partnership with the Orangeburg Department of Public Safety, is a regional center for crime scene data and DNA analysis. On October 20, 2016, Dr. Tisdale announced that Claflin raised more than $105 million in its Imagine the Possibilities Capital Campaign.


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