|Virginia Seminary and College was organized in May 1886 during the 19th annual session of the Virginia Baptist State Convention at the First Baptist Church in Lexington, Va. The Rev. P.F. Morris, pastor of Court Street Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., offered the resolution that authorized the establishment of the institution. Just 21 years out of slavery, African American Baptist leaders founded Lynchburg’s oldest institution of higher education for men and women to meet the growing demands of our community for better-educated and trained ministers, missionaries, and public school teachers.
In July 1886, lawyer James H. Hayes of Richmond was appointed to obtain a charter for the school. During the 1888 session of the Virginia Baptist State Convention, the location of the school in Lynchburg, the plans and specifications for the first brick building, the letting of the contract for the erection of the building and the charter were approved. The cornerstone of the first building was laid in July 1888. The school was opened on Jan. 18, 1890, by Professor R. P. Armstead with an enrollment of 33 students.
The institution has had 16 presidents. Professor G. W. Hayes, the second president (1890-1906), popularized the institution’s philosophy of self-help, and during his administration Hayes Hall was completed. During the administration of Dr. Robert C. Woods, a former student of Professor Hayes, the school enjoyed its greatest period of expansion. Fox Hall, Graham Hall and Humbles Hall were erected; several lots and cottages were purchased; a capable and efficient faculty was employed; and a student body of 600 was enrolled. Of the university’s 16 presidents, the following 11 were graduates of the institution: Robert C. Woods, William H.R. Powell, Vernon N. Johns, Madison C. Allen, McCarthy C. Sutherland, Benjamin W. Robertson, Leroy Fitts, Melvin R. Boone, Thomas E. Parker, Elisha G. Hall and Ralph Reavis.