Had his master not “allowed” him to learn to read, Kentucky slave Elijah P. Marrs could not have become a teacher.
And had he not become a teacher, he likely would not have gone on, after serving with the Union army during the Civil War, to help found in 1879 what would become Simmons College in Louisville and serve as its first president.
Now a replica of his Civil War uniform stands in the lobby of the historically black college which Tuesday celebrated a significant expansion of its physical campus in downtown Louisville as well as an expansion of its academic programs.
Simmons College struggled over the years, for a time operated by the University of Louisville as its segregated “Municipal College for the Colored,” according to a school history. But it has undergone a dramatic revival since St. Stephen Baptist Church purchased the original campus at Seventh and Kentucky streets in 1996 under the direction of senior pastor, Dr. Kevin Cosby.
Dr. Cosby, also president of what’s now Simmons College of Kentucky, outlined his vision in a Courier-Journal Forum piece Sunday, in which he notes that the school is about to receive long-sought designation as an Historically Black College and University from the U.S. Department of Education.
But this week’s news centered around the grand opening of the college’s new building at Fourth and Kentucky streets, expanding its campus eastward.
Purchase of a building that once housed the Sons of the American Revolution was made possible through a $3 million grant from the J. Graham Brown Foundation and expansion of academic programs, through $2 million from the Gheens Foundation.
At a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday, Simmons College board member Barbara Sexton Smith observed “there is no freedom without education.”
That was true for Elijah Marrs and remains true for the young people Dr. Cosby expects will receive college degrees from Simmons as it carries the vision of its founders into another century.
— Courier-Journal, Louisville