| Rust College was established in 1866 by the Freedman’s Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Its founders were missionaries from the North who opened a school in Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church, accepting adults of all ages, as well as children, for instruction in elementary subjects. A year later the first building on the present campus was erected.
In 1870, the school was chartered as Shaw University, honoring the Reverend S.O. Shaw, who made a gift of $10,000 to the new institution. In 1892, the name was changed to Rust University to avoid confusion with another Shaw University. The name was a tribute to Richard S. Rust of Cincinnati, Ohio, Secretary of the Freedman’s Aid Society. In 1915, the title was changed to the more realistic name, Rust College.
As students progressed, high school and college courses were added to the curriculum, and in 1878 two students were graduated from the college department. As public schools for African Americans became more widespread, the need for private schools decreased, and in 1930 the grade school was discontinued. The high school continued to function until 1953.
A significant change in the administration of the institution took place in 1920 when Dr. M.S. Davage became president, the first African American to hold that position. Dr. L. M. McCoy (1924), his successor, was the first alumnus to serve his Alma Mater as president. He was followed in 1957 by Dr. Earnest A. Smith, an alumnus, class of 1937. In 1967, Dr. William A. McMillan, a non-alumnus assumed the presidency. In 1993, Dr. David L. Beckley, an alumnus, class of 1967, became the eleventh president of Rust College. In 2020, Dr. Ivy Taylor became the twelfth president of Rust College.
Among approximately 20,000 former students of Rust College, many completed only their elementary or secondary education. However, more than 5,500 have graduated from the college department. Among these alumni are bishops of the United Methodist Church and other church denominations, public school teachers and administrators, college presidents, lawyers, physicians, business and government leaders and ministers.