A Brief Overview of the
History of Clarke College
Newton, Mississippi

From 1908-1991

Clarke Memorial College grew out of an idea that East Mississippi needed a Baptist institution of higher learning. This was first publicly expressed at the General Association Meeting of Mississippi Baptists in 1907. The death of Rev. N. L. Clarke in 1906, who had been an influential Baptist minister in East Mississippi, spurred the movement to establish a Baptist College in East Mississippi. The Mt. Pisgah Association was first to go on record as being in favor of establishing such an institution. A number of rallies were held in the interest of Baptist higher education in 1907. The climax of these rallies was a rally at the Newton First Baptist Church in October, 1907, that selected a committee to choose the site for a Baptist college in East Mississippi and a Board of Trustees to operate the college.

 

The formal opening of Clarke Memorial College occurred on October 1, 1908.

The town of Newton launched a major effort to secure the proposed college, establishing a committee to raise funds to build the college and another committee to secure a Newton site. Despite competition from towns in the areas. Newton was chosen the site for the Baptist college at a meeting of area Baptists in the November, 1907, mainly due to the fact that it was on a railroad crossing and it had a healthful site. The college building committee met on April 16, 1908, and let contracts from construction of three buildings. The formal opening of Clarke Memorial College occurred on October 1, 1908.

 

Under President S.B. Culpepper, Clarke enrolled 114 students its first session. The second session (1909) enrolled 148. By the third session, enrollment was up to 200; but Clarke was deeply in debt, badly needing contributions. In 1911 a committee met to coordinate Clarke College and Mississippi College's academic programs. In 1913 S. B. Culpepper was succeeded as president by M. P. Bush, who served as acting president until M. O. Patterson took the office.

 

This rapid turnover in chief administrative officers and Clarke's financial difficulties led to uncertainty about Clark's future. In December, 1913, Clarke College's Board of Trustees requested that the college be turned over to the Mississippi Baptist State Convention.

In 1913 Clarke College was turned over to the Mississippi Baptist
Convention as a Junior College.

At a 1913 meeting of the Mississippi Baptist Convention this request was granted on the condition that the college be only a junior college designed to feed the Baptist senior colleges in the state. It retained its secondary department. Clarke still was laboring under a $25.000 debt. In March, 1915, M.O. Patterson resigned as was succeeded by R.A. Venable who served only one year. T. A. J. Beasley was asked to accept the position but, on his refusal to accept the office, Bryan Simmons was chosen. From 1908 to 1930 there were ten presidents. During that period, enrollment continued to grow. During the early 1920's Clarke received $12,500 from the Southern Baptist Churches' $75.000 Campaign with the stipulation the Board of Trustees raise an additional $2,500. In 1926 the Standardization Committee of the Mississippi State Department of Education visited the Clarke campus and certified them as an accredited junior college.

In 1926 Clarke became an accredited Junior College.

The mid and late 1920's were difficult economic times for Clarke College with it being $35.000 in debt by the late 1920's.

A joint meeting of the Clarke Board of Trustees and the Education Commission agreed to raise additional funds if Newton would also raise funds; but at a special meeting at the Mississippi Baptist Convention there was a vote taken to close Clarke College. There was such a local outcry to respond to the decision, that another special session was called which rescinded the previous action (July 15, 1930). That special session also agreed to liquidate Clarke's $40,000 debt and borrow money to fund Clarke's operation. However, at the regular session of the Mississippi Baptist Convention that year, there was another vote to close Clarke College. A group of East Mississippi Baptists sought to lease Clarke College for five years. This was agreed to by the Board of Trustees on April 13, 1931.

Clarke College remained a state accredited institution under the Clarke College Holding Commission. S. L. Stringer was chosen as president; but in 1935 he was succeeded by Dr. C.Z. Holland. On April 16, 1937 the college was leased to W. L. McMullan, who served as president from 1937 to 1938. In 1940 W.L.. McMullan surrendered the charter and lease to Freeman E. May.

Freeman May served as president from 1940 to 1942. When he resigned, J. L. Boyde of Meridian was elected president. During the 1930's and early 1940's Clarke was operated by a holding company.

Clarke began to increase it's academic offerings for returning World War II veterans. As a result Clarke began emerging from the difficult times of the Great Depression, and there was a move to return Clarke to the control of the Mississippi Baptist Convention.

In 1945 control of Clarke College was returned to the Mississippi Baptist Convention. The same year W.E. Greene was chosen as president of Clarke College, serving in that capacity until 1954. During those years, Clarke's enrollment reached 400-500 students.

In 1945 control of Clarke College was returned to the
Mississippi Baptist Convention.

Also in 1952 Clarke College received its initial accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Deficit spending led to a change in the administration n 1954, with W.L. Green being replaced by Lowery Compere who served as president from January, 1955 to 1977. During the Compere administration the women's dormitory, men's dormitory, the Science Building and Fine Arts building were constructed. Also the sub-collegiate program was dropped during the Compere administration. In the mid 1960's and into the 1970's; howver, deficits began to occur as enrollment dropped and the college began to cover these deficits by spending quasi-endowed funds.

In 1976 the word "Memorial" was dropped from the college's name.

In 1976 the college's charter was amended to change it's name to Clarke College, omitting the word " Memorial." In 1977 Dr. Compere retired and Dr. S. L. Harris became president. Harris served only eighteen months and was succeeded by Dr. A. C. Johnson (1979-1981).

In the fall of 1980 Clarke College's Board of Trustees, facing the problems of decreasing enrollment and annual deficits, which were rapidly depleting the quasi-endowed fund, believed Clarke was in danger of closing.  Clarke College's Board of Trustees went to the Baptist State Education Commission with the problem and the Education Commission recommended in November, 1980, that Clarke College be transferred to the control of Mississippi College.

On August 1, 1981, the Mississippi Baptist Convention officially transferred the operation and administration of Clarke College to the Mississippi College Board of Trustees. Under the plan, Clarke College lost it's independent board of trustees and it's president.

In 1981 Clarke College became a Division of Mississippi College.

All of Clarke's property was transferred to the Mississippi College Board of Trustees. Income from Clarke's endowed fund would go for Clarke's use only.  Clarke College would become an integral part of Mississippi College, though Clarke was expected to pay its own operating costs.

The union of Clarke College with Mississippi College has now been in existence for ten years. The nature of he relationship was not clearly defined by the document mandating the union, so any definition has come by "custom" and "usage." What has emerged cannot be described as a real " merger" but rather it is a partial merger of administration and financial operations, while academics, student support services, and alumni affairs have remained separate.

Clarke College Presidents 1908 Until Closing

1908 - 1912
S. B. Culpepper
1912 - 1913
L. G. Gates
1913 - 1915 
M. O. Patterson
1915 - 1916
R. A. Venable
1916 - 1918 
Bryan Simmons
1918 - 1920 
T.A.J. Beasley

1920 - 1923 

John F. Carter
1923 - 1929 
H. T. McLaurin
1929 - 1930
W.T. Lowrey
1930 - 1931  
John F. Carter
1931 - 1932 
A. A. Roebuck
1932 - 1935
S.L.Stringer
1935 - 1937
C. Z. Holland
1937 - 1940
W.L. McMillan
1940 - 1941
Freeman S. May
1942 - 1944 
J. L. Boyd
1944 - 1954 
W.E. Greene
1955 - 1977
W. Lowery Compere
1977 - 1979
S.L. Harris
1979 - 1981    
A. C. Johnson
1981 -  early 90's
Dr.Lewis Nobles
Read Clarke History as written by Mrs. Marion Thornton
on the Newton County, Mississippi,
Historical and Genealogical Society Site