Berea College Celebrates Its 150th Anniversary

Berea College in Kentucky is celebrating its 150th academic year. From its founding right after the Civil War to the end of the nineteenth century, Berea enrolled equal numbers of blacks and whites. The official motto of the college was, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth.” The founders of the college believed that a policy in which students produced manual labor for the school instead of paying tuition would blur distinctions between class and race.

Bachelor's degree recipients at Berea College,

photo courtesy of Berea College: An Illustrated History by Shannon H. Wilson (University of Kentucky Press)

Then, in 1904, the state of Kentucky passed the so-called Day Law which prohibited the education of blacks and whites in the same school. For the next 46 years, Berea College was an all-white institution. In 1950 racial integration was once again permitted in Kentucky. But blacks did not flock back to Berea. By 1967 only 5 percent of the student body was black. Today the figure is close to 20 percent. Students of all races at Berea College are from low-income families. They pay no tuition. The cost of college is paid for by investment returns on Berea’s large endowment and is offset by a requirement that all students work on campus.