In 1862, the American Missionary Association sent Ms. Lucinda Humphrey to Camp Shiloh to open an elementary school for freedmen and runaway slaves after the occupation of Memphis during the Civil War. The school, named Lincoln Chapel, was moved to Memphis in 1863, but was destroyed by fire in the race riots after the withdrawal of federal troops in 1866. The school was rebuilt and reopened in 1867 with 150 students and six teachers. The first years were challenging due to the toll that the yellow fever epidemic took on school personnel. In 1914, the school was moved to its present site on Walker Avenue, and the first building, Steele Hall, was erected on the new LeMoyne campus. LeMoyne became a junior college in 1924 and a four-year college in 1930. In March 1957, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. paid his first visit to Memphis and to our campus.
Owen College was established in 1947, when the Tennessee Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention bought property on Vance Avenue to build a junior college. The school opened in 1954 with 33 students as S. A. Owen Junior College, in honor of a distinguished religious and civic leader. In 1958, Owen College secured accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools and offered two year associate degrees in general education, business, home economics and religious education. Owen students also became involved in Memphis’ civil rights movement; in 1960, a group of students launched sit-ins to desegregate public facilities in the city, including the library. Unfortunately, in the mid-1960’s, Owen College began facing fiscal challenges, including inadequate funding and lower tuition fees at the recently de-segregated Memphis State University. In 1967, Roger Williams Hall was tragically destroyed by fire, resulting in a $500,000 loss and adding to the college’s challenges.
Both schools had been in discussions about a potential merger; in 1968, both schools joined, symbolically linking their names together.
LeMoyne-Owen College is a survivor — transcending the eras of race riots, yellow fever epidemics, Jim Crow laws and segregation in Memphis. We have stood the test of time and inspired countless students to change their lives.
Today, we are Memphis’ only historically black college. We stand prepared to continue our legacy and mission of educating and developing leaders.