February 21, 1895: Bluefield State College Founded

Feb 21, 2017

On February 21, 1895, the legislature established the Bluefield Colored Institute, which would become Bluefield State College.

Bluefield was chosen because it was the largest city in the southern coalfields and located within 100 miles of nearly three-fourths of the state’s black population.
Credit E-WV / WV Humanities Council

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, thousands of African-Americans moved into Mercer, McDowell, Raleigh, and Fayette counties to work in the mines and for the railroads. At the time, there was a shortage of higher education opportunities for blacks in West Virginia, particularly black teachers.

Bluefield was chosen because it was the largest city in the southern coalfields and located within 100 miles of nearly three-fourths of the state’s black population. The Bluefield Colored Institute opened to students in January 1897.

The school soon became a center of African-American culture, and twice in the late ‘20s, Bluefield State’s Big Blues won national black college football championships.

After mid-century, desegregation and the region’s changing population transformed Bluefield State into more of a commuter school, with an emphasis on vocational training. During the Vietnam War, a bombing rocked the phys. ed. building, and the president ordered the dorms closed. They never reopened, ending Bluefield State’s years as a historically black residential college.

Today, Bluefield State College’s enrollment stands at nearly 1,500.