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Toni Anderson, Music Historian, on
The founding of Fisk University

Toni Anderson How does that play into the way that Fisk comes to get formed?

Anderson : When the AMA founded Fisk University, they opened up educational opportunities for all blacks in the area. Therefore they had students there from age 5 to 70, sitting in the same classroom, for every one wanted to avail themselves of education. But it was also a Christian organization. They had prayer meetings. They had regular chapel services. This whole Christian atmosphere permeated the institution. They were very excited when they sent back reports of some of the outbreakings– revival moments, so to speak, that happened on the campus. All of those factored into the reports that the teachers would send back to the AMA headquarters.

What kind of climate was there at Fisk? What was being offered to students.

Anderson : [It] was a very different environment at Fisk University than what we would imagine today in colleges. One reason that is especially so is that so many of the teachers boarded and lived right there with their students. And that was very different than in many other places, even within the country, up north in other institutions, where necessarily it wasn’t common always for the teachers to live with the students. That was required at Fisk University because the northern missionary teachers couldn’t find accommodations anywhere else. Southerners wouldn’t let them in, wouldn’t keep them or board them. So they had to live on the campus with the students. And of course that created a different atmosphere. They not only were teaching their students facts and figures and knowledge, but they were also, in a sense, acculturating them and teaching them how to live and how to be, and what were proper manners, and what was proper etiquette.

So it’s an environment that becomes like a community.

Anderson : It’s very much a community atmosphere. And in a sense, that also fostered real strong relationships between teachers and their students. It was a family atmosphere, with strict rules and regulations. Behavior was mandated and controlled, certainly. But that was not uncommon for a lot of institutions during this era.

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