Berea College graduate James Shelton Hathaway was born enslaved in Montgomery County, KY in 1859. He became the College’s first black professor of Latin and Mathematics in 1884. He served as president of Kentucky State University from 1900 to 1907, and from 1910 to 1912. He was one of four Berea College graduates to serve as president of Kentucky State University.
Berea College graduate in the class of 1884, James Shelton Hathaway (1859-1930) was born enslaved in Montgomery County, Kentucky, the first cousin of famed Kentucky artist and sculptor, Isaac Scott Hathaway (1872-1967). James Hathaway received an early education in Montgomery County private schools before being admitted to Berea College in 1875. He went on to become a member of Union Church in 1876, as well as Clerk for the Town of Berea. Hathaway remained at Berea until he graduated from the classical course, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1884 under the presidency of Reverend E. H. Fairchild. The day after graduation he was elected “Tutor of Latin and Mathematics” by the Berea College Board of Trustees, and conferred with the degree of A. M. Hathaway met and married Kentucky school teacher Celia Anderson of Missouri, who was then living in Clyde, Ohio, on July 21, 1887. Two children were born of their union, James L. (1909) and Elizabeth Ann (1910). As a Berea College faculty member, Hathaway taught Latin and mathematics for ten years and invested personal assets and fundraising efforts to incorporate his own publishing company, Intelligence Publishing, headquartered on Broadway in Lexington, Kentucky.
Isabelle “Belle” Mitchell (1848-1942) enrolled in Berea College in 1868 where she met and later married Jordan Jackson, Jr. Like many women of her day, she discontinued her college education upon marriage.
Mitchell is considered the first black teacher hired at Camp Nelson by Reverend John Gregg Fee. Fee’s support of Mitchell and her presence as a teacher at Camp Nelson and subsequent hostile treatment and non-acceptance by Camp Nelson’s white American Missionary Association (AMA) teachers resulted in Fee’s removal as superintendent of colored schools of the Camp, and generated one of many growing division between Fee and the AMA.
After review of her case, the AMA established a black school in Lexington, over which Mitchell was placed as principal. She was joined in this endeavor by her white colleague and Camp Nelson supporters, Mary Colton and John G. Fee, who taught classes at the school during its first term. Mitchell became a prominent teacher in Fayette Country colored schools and, along with Mary Britton and 18 other women, a founding member of Lexington’s Colored Orphan Industrial Home in 1892. She was also actively involved with the Kentucky Colored Women’s Club Movement.
Julia Britton (1852 – 1942) in order to help support herself and her sister, Mary, while a student at Berea College served as Berea’s first African American teacher of classical music (1870-1872). Prior to her arrival at Berea, Britton was already a well-known musical prodigy in Lexington, Kentucky, playing parlor concerts for wealthy white families at a very young age.Mary’s parents, Henry and Laura Britton, were counted among Kentucky’s early literate, free, black families. The Brittons actively sought educational opportunities for their children and in order to obtain a college education for their children, relocated to the City of Berea. Funding for college for both girls was provided in large part through the work of their parents and by their own student labor. Laura Britton worked as a College matron.
Education and employment at Berea College ended abruptly for Julia in 1874, the year of her planned graduation, following the death of her father on March 17th and the death of her mother on July 9th that same year. Unable to complete her education at Berea following the deaths of her parents, Julia left Berea College in 1874 without officially graduating.
After leaving Berea College, Britton became active in Mississippi Republican politics. Following the death of her first husband, she relocated to Memphis in 1876 where she met and married her second husband, Charles F. Hooks. Julia continued her career in music by opening the Julia Hooks School of Music on Beale Street in Memphis where, numbered among her many students was William C. Handy, considered the “Father of the Blues”. She was a civil rights activist who battled inequality of facilities and discriminatory treatment of black school children. Julia’s grandson, civil rights leader and activist Benjamin Hooks, remembers his grandmother as a “rebel,” unafraid of being arrested by police.
Mary E. Britton (1855 – 1925), the younger sister of Julia Britton, was also a student at Berea College. Julia Britton helped support Mary while a student herself at Berea by serving as Berea’s first African American classical music teacher.
In 1874, one year before Mary’s expected graduation, the deaths of Henry and Laura Britton abruptly ended the education of both daughters at Berea College
In 1876, Mary utilized her Berea College education to obtain teaching positions in Chilesburg and Lexington, Kentucky Colored Schools and was considered a successful teacher. While she was widely known as a wonderful teacher, she is better known historically as a Lexington physician and journalist. Mary was Lexington’s first African American female physician. Upon completing her College education at the American Missionary College in Chicago, Mary returned to Lexington to practice medicine, receiving an official license to practice in Kentucky in 1902. Emulating the community work of her older sister, Mary served as a founding director of the Lexington Colored Orphan Industrial Home and resident of the local Women’s Improvement Club. As a journalist and civic organizer, she was an active participant in the movement to overturn Kentucky’s Separate Coach Law and a member of the Women’s Suffrage Movement.