Slavery ended in the Commonwealth of Kentucky on December 18, 1865 with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. Prior to the Civil War, Kentucky neither prohibited nor promoted the education of enslaved or free African Americans yet Kentucky had the dubious distinction of being the leader among the border states for its violent opposition to Freedmen's Bureau schools.
In the Commonwealth, the higher education of African Americans was the sole responsibility of the African American community and those persons and institutions sympathetic to their plight. Many states, including Kentucky, excluded African Americans from state-supported public and professional schools. The legal landscape for African Americans within the Commonwealth was shaped by the Kentucky legislature's passage of the Day Law in 1904, which prohibited schools from admitting both African American and white students; Berea College v. Kentucky (1908), which confirmed the Constitutionality of the Day Law; as well as Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which provided the legal foundation for "separate but equal" public services, accommodations, and the like in this period.
In this environment, Louisville's African American community sought to educate itself. Founded as the Kentucky Normal and Theological Institute in 1879, Simmons University was a symbol of African American pride and autonomy for African Americans in Kentucky and nationally. Simmons was chartered as a university in 1884, under the name State University (a name that it adopted in 1881). State University was renamed in 1919, becoming Simmons University in honor of William Simmons, a past president.
Under the terms of its 1894 amended charter, State University was the only African American educational institution in Kentucky with the power to grant professional degrees in theology, medicine and law. The Louisville National Medical College (1888-1912), and the Central Law School (1890-1941), existed as parts of, and were affiliated with, the institution. The Central Law School may have had some affiliation with Louisville Municipal College in some capacity.
Located on West Kentucky Street between 7th and 8th Streets, Simmons University was owned and operated by the General Association of Colored Baptists in Kentucky, and financially supported mainly by the voluntary contributions of African American Baptists, nationally and locally.
Louisville Municipal College came into being because African American Louisvillians flexed their political muscle on behalf of greater educational opportunities. In 1920, the University of Louisville proposed a $1 million municipal bond issue to the citizens of Louisville. This funding was seen as essential for the development of the UofL's undergraduate department, in particular, and the proposal required a two-thirds affirmative vote for passage. A number of African American Louisvillians expressed their opposition to the bond issue on the grounds that no provisions had been made for the higher education of African Americans and yet African American's tax dollars would be used to support higher education for whites. On November 2, 1920, the bond issue failed by more than four thousand votes. While it is impossible to know exactly how the Black community voted, the predominantly Black wards reported nearly 5,000 votes against the bond, and less than 2,000 in favor. City and University leaders came to realize they would need to work with the African American community in the future if they were to secure funds for University of Louisville.
A similar, subsequent bond issue passed in 1925 because the University of Louisville agreed to set aside one tenth (i.e., $100,000) of the $1,000,000 bond issue for "a laboratory building for use in giving extension courses for colored students under university control and supervision for which courses of full credit will be given." While the bond issue passed in 1925, the promises lay unfulfilled for several years, due in part to the deaths of UofL President A.Y. Ford (in 1926) and his successor, George Colvin (1928).
Louisville Municipal College for Negroes (LMC), opened on February 9, 1931, on the former grounds of Simmons University. Facing financial hardship, Simmons sold its buildings and grounds to the University of Louisville and refocused its curriculum, becoming Simmons Bible College. Louisville Municipal College (as it was formally known as of 1942) operated as a separate and segregated municipal college under the administration of the Board of Trustees of the University of Louisville, established for the purpose of meeting the higher education needs of African Americans.
Louisville Municipal College, offering a four-year liberal arts curriculum, was one of three municipal liberal arts colleges for African Americans in the United States at that time. While other municipal institutions were part of their public school systems, LMC was unique in being under the jurisdiction of a university. In addition, the faculty of LMC had academic credentials on par with similarly-situated white institutions. LMC received a "Class A" rating from the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools In 1936.
Dr. Rufus Clement, Dean from 1931 to 1937, greeted eight-three students when the doors opened in 1931. Faculty members William M. Bright, Earl L. Brown, Nancy Bullock, D. L. Lawson, A. W. Ramsey, and Henry S. Wilson joined him.
Deans of Louisville Municipal College:
During its last year of existence, Louisville Municipal College functioned without the leadership of a dean. Ms. Florence Johnson was LMC's first graduate in 1932 with a major in chemistry. LMC ultimately graduated more than 500 students.
Louisville Municipal College's library was established with the college's founding in 1931. By 1934, the library had over 5,000 volumes and was managed by a professional librarian. In 1951, when LMC closed, the collections of the Louisville Municipal College Library were absorbed into UofL's University Library on Belknap Campus, duplicate copies being sold to students and faculty for 25¢ per volume.
Student activities at LMC were similar to those found at other American colleges in the 1930s and 1940s. The student center on the campus was a gathering place for playing cards, checkers, chess, ping pong and other activities. There were intramural sports as well as a collegiate basketball, track, tennis and football teams. Athletes who lettered in their sport could join the "L Club". Fraternities and sororities existed on the campus, not only sponsoring social activities for the campus but also providing student scholarships. The campus newspaper, The Bantam, was first published in 1931.