| Claflin 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, 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.
Since the administration of Dr. Webster, Claflin has been served by seven presidents: Dr. Edward Cooke (1872-1884); Dr. Lewis M. Dunton (1884-1922); Dr. Joseph B. Randolph (1922 1944); Dr. John J. Seabrook (1945-1955); Dr. Hubert V. Manning (1956-1984); Dr. Oscar A. Rogers, Jr. (1984-1994); and Dr. Henry N. Tisdale (1994-present).
Dr. Cooke left the presidency of Lawrence College to become the second president of Claflin. During his administration, a disastrous fire destroyed the Fisk Building, a proud monument designed by Robert Bates, recognized as the first certified Black Architect in the United States. In 1879 the first college class was graduated.
The Reverend Dr. 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; Claflin’s property increased from six to 21 acres. After his retirement, Dr. Dunton deeded his personal home and six acres of land to Claflin.
Dr. 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 for the students who were inspired intellectually, culturally, and spiritually to launch into varied fields. The high school and upper grades were discontinued, but the first four elementary grades were retained for the teacher education program; this part of the program was later discontinued.
Dr. 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. Furthermore, he revitalized the interest of the New England Conference of the Methodist Church in the institution. The endowment was increased, and the curriculum was expanded. The college received its first accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 1948.
Dr. 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.
Dr. Rogers, former dean of the Graduate School at Jackson State University, became Claflin’s seventh president. Under his administration the enrollment and endowment increased, the Grace Thomas Kennedy building was constructed, the financial base of the college improved, and two capital campaigns were completed. Dr. Rogers also commissioned a master plan to guide campus development into the 21st century.
Dr. Tisdale, Claflin’s eighth and current 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. The 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. Graduate programs established include the Master of Business Administration, the Master of Science in Biotechnology and the Master of Education. Facilities enhancements include construction of the Living and Learning Center, Legacy Plaza, the Student Residential Center, the Music Center, and the new University Chapel. Claflin University is now recognized as one of the premier liberal arts institutions in the nation.