April 5, 1866 – Berea College’s Incorporation is Completed
Berea College was founded by John G. Fee, a Kentucky slaveholder’s son, in 1855. Fee became convinced that slavery was a tremendous moral and spiritual evil. He preached a “gospel of impartial love” that defined not only the early programs and policies of the College but the emerging village of Berea as well. Fee envisioned a school that would educate “not merely in the ordinary branches of learning but in love as first in religion and justice as in government.”
The College’s constitution and bylaws of 1859 gave substance to Fee’s ideas. The opening words of the constitution, “In order to promote the cause of Christ,” articulated the foundational aim of the school. The practical application of this aim was “to furnish the facilities for a thorough education to all persons of good moral character.” In this view, excluding students on the basis of color or gender was not possible, since Fee and his colleagues believed that God alone was the creator of “all peoples of the earth.” Since character was the chief qualification for admission, then education would be placed within reach of all who desired its benefits. Consequently, schooling at Berea could be had “at the least possible expense, and all inducements and facilities for manual labor which can reasonable be supplied by the Board of Trustees shall be offered.” The school deliberately welcomed the poor who sought learning and provided work opportunities to help disadvantaged students realize their dreams.
Steps toward creating an organizational framework for Berea College began in September 1858. Nine men gathered in John Fee’s study to begin work on the College’s constitution. In addition to Fee, they included teacher and minister J.A.R. Rogers; John Hanson (Fee’s cousin, who owned a local sawmill); three ministers – George Candee, Jacob Emerick and J.S. Davis; and three local farmers – William Stapp, John Smith and T.J. Renfro.
Their final draft was adopted after a three-day meeting in July 1859. However, lacking the 10 members required by Kentucky law, the college was not yet legally incorporated. Tensions between the anti-slavery founders of Berea and pro-slavery residents of the area forced the Fee and Rogers families and other like-minded citizens to relocate to Ohio in late 1859. Berea was shuttered during the Civil War.
In January 1866 the school reopened as the Berea Literary Institute. New trustees were elected and the College was officially chartered with the filing of the constitutional articles of incorporation in Richmond, Kentucky, on April 5, 1866.
The information in this article was excerpted from Berea College: An Illustrated History by Shannon H. Wilson.