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Historical Overview

In 1873, State senator John Middleton Clayton sponsored a legislative act calling for the establishment of Branch Normal College, but it was not until 1875 that the state’s economic situation was secure enough to proceed with it. That year, Branch Normal was established as a branch of Arkansas Industrial University, now the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Its primary objective was educating black students to become teachers for the state’s black schools. Governor Augustus Hill Garland, Arkansas Industrial University board chairman D. E. Jones, and Professor Wood Thompson hired Joseph Carter Corbin in July 1875 to make a determination about locating Branch Normal in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) because of the town’s large black population and its place as the major economic center in south-central Arkansas. Corbin was subsequently elected as principal at a salary of $1,000 a year. The first class consisted of seven students. During the year, seventy-five to eighty students were enrolled, but the average attendance was forty-five to fifty the last three months of the school year.

Several setbacks occurred that delayed the actual opening of the school. The first building was an old frame house in need of much repair, but repairs were delayed because of illness among the workers. Lumber and furniture were ordered for the new building, but the boat carrying them sank in the river.

The first location for the Normal School was a one story frame house built to serve as a barrack and located on the corner of Lindsey and Sevier streets (now Second Avenue and Oak Street). The school opened on September 27, 1875 with seven students in attendance. Corbin described these students as scholastically heterogeneous - one could read very well but not write legibly. Others knew enough mathematics to cipher through ratio and proportion, but were reading at less than first grade level. The students entering Branch Normal College were certainly disadvantaged since: 1.) They and their parents were just ten years removed from slavery and 2.) "Few" if any preparatory schools of proper character had existed prior to this time in the State.

In June 1882, after seven years, Corbin reported with great pride that "The first colored student that ever graduated and received a college degree in the State was graduated from Branch Normal College. Between 1882 and 1895 ten students would receive the Bachelor of Arts degree before the reduction of the collegiate program at Branch Normal.

Other Milestones

1882 – Corbin and his students moved to a new structure, a 20 acre plot on the west side of the city between West Second and Fourth Avenues.

1892 – Branch Normal was designated as a Land Grant Institution under the Morrill Act of 1890.

1902 – Isaac Fisher, a graduate of Tuskegee Institute and a disciple of Booker T. Washington, headed the institution until 1911.

1911- After Fisher’s resignation, W.S. Harris and Frederick T. Venegar both led the institution. During their administration in 1914-1915, a student strike occurred and lasted for more than two weeks, which led to the school closing and ending the Harris-Venegar administration.

1915 – Jefferson Ish became the first Arkansan to be named head of the school.  The school was organized into departments and intramural sports were initiated.

1922  – Robert Malone was named superintendent and developed the school as a multipurpose institution.

1927 – Branch Normal College name changed to Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College (AM&N).  

1928 – John Brown Watson was elected as head of the college and hired a strong faculty.

1928 – The first intercollegiate sports teams were organized. The Lion became the school mascot.

1929 – On December 15, Watson and his students moved to the new campus (UAPB’s current site). Eight new buildings were constructed.

1943 – Dr. Lawrence A. Davis, Sr. was named head of the college at age 29, then the youngest college president in the United States

1947 – W.E. O’Bryant Bell Tower was built.

1949 – 1968 – A time of unprecedented growth for the university as new facilities were built to accommodate student, faculty, and staff.  Among these new buildings were: The L. A. Davis, Sr. Student Union, Hazzard Gymnasium, Woodard Hall, Larrison Hall, the infirmary, two dormitories, the library and, the Fine Arts Center.

1972 – AM&N merged with the University of Arkansas system, thus becoming the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB).

1972 – Dr. Lawrence A. Davis, Sr. assumed role as UAPB’s first chancellor. Dr. Davis resigned in 1973 after having served 30 years as head of the institution.

1974 – The campus underwent a major renovation. Several older buildings were demolished and Kountz-Kyle Science Hall was constructed to house the Department of Biology.

1986-91– Under the direction of Chancellor Dr. Charles Walker, the Center of Excellence in Fisheries Biology on Education, Diagnostic Chemistry and Education Opportunities was established.

1991 – Following the resignation of Chancellor Charles A. Walker during the summer of 1991, Dr. Carolyn Blakely served as interim chancellor, becoming the first female to head UAPB in its 130th history. Dr. L. A. Davis, Jr. was appointed chancellor in November 1991.

1991 – Dr. Lawrence A. Davis, Jr. was unanimously elected chancellor of UAPB.

1991 – UAPB football program is restored, leading to two national championships.

1997 – A new home for the School of Business and Management is built (Henderson-Young Hall) along with the SJ Parker 1890 Extension Complex.

2001-2002 – Dawson-Hicks and Caine-Gilleland Halls are built.

2012 – Ground is broken to build the STEM Academy and Conference Center.

2012-2013| Dr. Calvin Johnson is appointed Interim Chancellor.

2013 – Dr. Laurence B. Alexander is selected as UAPB’s next Chancellor, making him the first permanent chancellor since Dr. Lawrence A. Davis, Jr. who served for 21 years.

2014 | STEM Building is completed
2017 | An annex to the Delta Housing Complex is completed