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A look back at Stillman College’s nearly 150 years of faithful service

The HBCU with strong ties to the PC(USA) renews its commitment ahead of the April 12 investiture of Stillman’s eighth president, Dr. Yolanda W. Page

by Shani E. McIlwain | Presbyterian News Service

Participants in a 1952 youth conference held at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, are depicted in this photo provided by the Presbyterian Historical Society.

What gives someone the will to do what is right in the face of possible death threats, intimidation or loss of comfort?

One could offer it’s the power of the Holy Spirit, and yet following the nudge of the Spirit is still a choice.

In the postbellum South, a Presbyterian minister recognized an opportunity to educate Black men and prepare them for ministry. This conviction took him all the way to the 1875 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, which voted to authorize the inception of the Tuscaloosa Institute.  The Rev. Dr. Charles Allen Stillman’s legacy is deeply rooted and connected to the history of what is now known as Stillman College.

As pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Stillman taught his first class at the Tuscaloosa Institute in 1876 and remained as superintendent until his death in 1895, when Tuscaloosa Institute was rename Stillman Institute.

The Rev. Dr. Charles Allen Stillman

Stillman grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, attended Oglethorpe University, and graduated from Columbia Theological Seminary in 1844. It was at Second Presbyterian Church in Charleston that Stillman grew, learned, and honed his preaching and pastoral skills.

The Co-Moderator of the 224th General Assembly, the Rev. Gregory Bentley, a second-generation Stillman College alumni, said, “Denmark Vesey had been a member of the Second Presbyterian Church in Charleston. This was decades before Dr. Stillman was born, but he was a member there. Of course, [Vesey] went on to be one of the founders of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. But you know, I’ve always wondered whether Dr. Stillman had any knowledge of him or whether Mr. Vesey’s story inspired him to do what he did.”

The school saw its biggest expansion during the tenure of its second president, Samuel Burney Hay, who worked to have Stillman Institute become a senior liberal arts institution. In 1948, Stillman Institute was renamed Stillman College. In 1951, Stillman graduated its first baccalaureate class.

The investiture of Stillman College’s eighth president, Dr. Yolanda W. Page, is set for April 12.

Over the years, Stillman has remained committed to its motto, “Deeply Rooted, Future Driven.” Its small class sizes and family-oriented nature make it easy for first-generation students to get the attention and grace needed to be successful. As it nears its 150th year in 2026, the Rev. Dr. Joseph F. Scrivner, the Dean of Chapel at Stillman College and the pastor of Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Tuscaloosa, shares that, “Stillman College is the only historically Black college or university (HBCU) founded by the southern Presbyterian church. It is also the only HBCU currently receiving a portion of the denomination’s annual Christmas Joy Offering.

“In 2026, it will celebrate 150 years of service as an educational institution in a covenant relationship with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This service has been a critical witness to God’s mission of reconciliation through Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:11-21) as it has educated and nurtured those who have been historically oppressed, marginalized and often deprived of necessary resources (Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 4:16-19; James 5:1-6). The college’s leaders solicit the denomination’s celebration and continued support for this indispensable witness.”

Beginning at 9 a.m. Eastern Time on April 12, the investiture of Dr. Yolanda W. Page as Stillman College’s eighth president will be a sign of the renewed commitment between the PC(USA) and this long-standing educational institution.

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