Oakwood University Celebrates 125 Years of God’s Providence – Adventist Review
The administration and accreditation committee members celebrated the news of Oakwood’s initial accreditation in 1958 by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. [Photo: Oakwood University]
November 16, 1896, is a date that will forever live in the sacred history of the Seventh-day Adventist mission. On this date, the Oakwood Industrial School in Huntsville, Alabama, United States, opened its doors to 16 students.
On November 16, 2021, Oakwood University is celebrating its 125th birthday. For more than a century, Oakwood University has launched thousands of graduates into orbits of service around the corner and around the world.
Today, Oakwood University, a historically Black Seventh-day Adventist institution of higher learning, offers high-quality Christian education that emphasizes academic excellence; promotes harmonious development of mind, body, and spirit; and prepares leaders in service for God and humanity.
The school’s motto, shared by faculty and students, is Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve. In everything it does, the school believes and practices God First, its current slogan. Consistent with its mission statement, Oakwood University is in the business of transforming lives — both for now and, more importantly, for eternity.
While the many accomplishments of Oakwood University are legendary, at its very beginning, prospects were less than promising. In 1895, church leaders G. A. Irwin, O. A. Olsen, and N. Lindsey traveled to Huntsville, Alabama, looking for land for an industrial school authorized by the General Conference. From the start, Adventist Church co-founder Ellen White championed Oakwood’s cause and is unquestionably worthy of the title “co-founder of Oakwood.”
In a letter (no. 313) written in 1904, White wrote, “It was in the providence of God that the Huntsville school farm was purchased.” As it grew from its meager beginnings, she continuously spoke out for the school, doing all in her power to make sure it prospered. She wrote, visited, prodded, sacrificed, prayed, donated, advocated, and cried for the fledgling institution to ever fulfill its God-given destiny.
A Plantation Farmer’s Property
The more than 350 acres purchased in 1896 were property owned by plantation farmer Peter Blow. Among the slaves owned by Blow was one named Dred, who would become famous for his role in the Dred Scott case. (Blow’s son, Taylor, gave Dred Scott his freedom in 1857.)
On the former slave plantation, the Alabama landscape was sloping and uneven; the red clay was hard as granite; the soil was barren from having been overworked; dense brush encircled the property; tree limbs sagged. It took vision and faith to see a future in this unpromising plot in the heart of the American South, 30 years after the Civil War.
The 65 towering oak trees on the original property inspired the name of this new institution. The Oakwood Industrial School opened its doors on November 16, 1896, with a principal, three teachers, and 16 students. As academic offerings expanded over the years and the number of students and staff increased, so Oakwood underwent changes in its name.
The school was named the Oakwood Industrial School from 1896 to 1904, and then it became known as the Oakwood Manual Training School, the name from 1904 to 1917. Then the school was called Oakwood Junior College from 1917 to 1945 and was Oakwood College from 1945 to 2008.
In 1943, Oakwood received its first accreditation, as a junior college, while already in the process of seeking senior college status. Fifteen years later, in 1958, it was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award associate and baccalaureate degrees.
The institution was named Oakwood University on January 1, 2008, when the school achieved university status after adding its first graduate program, the Master of Arts degree in pastoral studies.
As the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) member institution in northern Alabama, Oakwood participates in and benefits from UNCF’s fund-raising campaigns, including scholarships, as well as access to international educational opportunities.
Today, Oakwood University is considered a historical landmark of Huntsville and is a part of the community. Students carry out their mission of service by participating in local tutoring, disaster relief, community improvement, and child development programs.
U.S. News & World Report has consistently ranked Oakwood University among top-tier, private liberal arts colleges and universities in the South, in both the “Historically Black Colleges and Universities” (HBCUs) and “Regional Colleges/South” categories. The university offers approximately 60 degrees in more than 16 academic disciplines. Oakwood has an outstanding record of preparing successful applicants to graduate and go on to professional schools. Close to 60 percent of the culturally diverse faculty hold doctorate degrees from a wide range of national and international colleges and universities.