Preserving Lane College: Q&A with Dr. Logan Hampton and Sherill B. Scott
The HBCU Cultural Heritage Stewardship Initiative derived from a need to cultivate and uplift historic Black colleges and universities across the nation. This work is in tandem with the standard set by the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund to protect and restore places where significant Black history happened and highlight the key roles they have played in American society.
Last year, eight HBCUs were awarded more than $650,000 in funding to develop cultural heritage stewardship plans for their campuses and historic sites. The sole goal of this initiative is to partner with HBCUs to empower and preserve the legacies of the campuses and ensure that the stories of their foundations are upheld to educate and inspire future generations of students to pay it forward. As part of this work, we conducted a Q&A with each grant recipient to learn about the history and work at each of these significant institutions.
The history of Lane College first dates to 1878 when the Colored Methodist Episcopal (C.M.E) Church conceived of establishing a school in Tennessee. In 1882, Isaac Lane— who was formerly enslaved and now a bishop of the C.M.E. Church—purchased 4-acres of land in Jackson, Tennessee and established Lane College. Lane opened with the mission to educate formerly enslaved people and prepare new teachers and preachers.
Today the campus has expanded to over 25 acres and includes the Lane College Historic District comprised of Bray Hall (1905), the J.K. Daniels Center (1923), Saunders Hall (1908), and Cleaves Hall (1921). In this Q&A Dr. Logan Hampton, president of Lane College, and Sherill B. Scott, vice president for administration, discuss the history of Lane College, its campus, and the vision for preserving the J.K Daniels Conference Center.
Why is this place important to preserve? Can you provide some background on the history of the site, including both cultural and architectural history?
Hampton: The impact of Lane College on the Jackson, Tennessee-Madison County community, and particularly the East Jackson community, is incalculable. The C.M.E. Church conceived of this place. In 1880, Bishop Isaac Lane, who was born on a forced labor camp [the camp owners’ child], taught himself to read under the greatest of difficulties. Then on the other side of Reconstruction, he became a minister in the C.M.E Church and elected to Bishop. Lane said that he looked around and saw the conditions of his preachers and that they needed to learn to read and write, to speak the English language correctly, and were yearning for an education.
Lane raised $240 to buy four acres of property, in this location. This very spot where we sit right now [Bray Hall], that was previously the Hayes Labor Camp. It was a place of enslavement, and place where the Colored soldiers had a camp during the Civil War. He bought this land to establish an institution of learning and on November 12, 1882, The C.M.E. High School opened under the leadership of Jennie E. Lane, Bishop Lane's daughter. Since then, this institution has been providing access to education to those persons who might not otherwise have an opportunity to be educated. Lane was an important institution in 1882, and it is as equally important in 2022 that this institution continue to serve [those that need education].
What is the vision for the preservation of the J.K Daniels Center?
Hampton: I love the thought of repurposing historic J.K. Daniels. It is strategically placed at the entrance of the campus and has been a workhorse of a facility for the college. It has served as the industries and trade building, library, conference center, and now is an office building. It is the first building that you see when you arrive on campus, it's our front door, so having the opportunity to make this building a show place, that's an exciting opportunity for us. It should be a place where a student is able to do all that they need to do to become a student at Lane College.
The front of Daniels is beautiful. It is a beautiful lawn which has served as the former location of Commencement, the President’s homecoming breakfast, and legend says that persons have gotten married there on those steps. However, it is interesting in that it's at the front of the campus, but it’s back turned as you enter the campus. So, I'm interested in how creative our design team can be to help us to preserve the historic significance of the building but also give the sense of Daniels being front facing and welcoming to students, alumni, visitors, and the community.
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What inspires you most about the J.K. Daniels Center project?
Scott: I have been at Lane College for 45 years and because of my longevity I've seen J.K. Daniels go from a library, as a student, to now. Graduation was just a beautiful sight at Daniels. If you see pictures of the old building, there with the columns and everything, it just made such an awesome picture. To see myself as a part of this, who never really thought she'd go to college, let alone graduate from college. And here I was, graduating with honors, it was just wonderful.
When I first came to Lane, the women who worked in the library had major influences on my life. Mrs. Clara Hewitt, who was the head librarian and moved to be the director of the Upward Bound program. I am a former Upward Bound student, and it is at Hewitt’s insistence that I came to Lane. I am the youngest of five children, to a single mother, lived in a housing project. And so, Upward Bound was survival for me when I came here.
Then there is Dr. Anna Cooke, who was the librarian when I came to Lane, who encouraged me in so many ways, and was one of the reasons I joined Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. She was just such a great influence and such a staunch member of the community. Daniels has stood the test of time; it speaks for itself as it relates to the importance of that one building to Lane College. It is so significant to me.
What is the influence of women on the history and continuance of Lane College?
Hampton: Mrs. Scott mentioned the women that mentored her at Lane. That spirit goes back to the beginning of the college. The first leader of Lane was Jennie E. Lane in 1882 and it was historic without being historic. Women led the way; a woman led the way for Lane. And as the 10th president of Lane College, I'm here as a part of her legacy.
Alex Haley’s parents met and married at Lane College. I'm fond of saying there would be no Alex Haley without Lane College. Haley had a picture of a turtle on a fence post in his office. And he said when you see a turtle on a fence post, you know it had help getting there. And the help I've had is Jennie E. Lane, Dr. Anna Cooke, Mrs. Clara Hewitt, and Mrs. Sherrill Scott. It just a source of inspiration for me, to know that that is a part of my legacy in serving this population of students.
How does the J.K Daniels project continue Lane’s legacy of preservation?
Scott: We have done preservation project in the past—starting in the early 1990s—in the historic district where work was completed on Saunders Hall, Cleaves Hall, J.K. Daniels, the Presidents Home, and Bray Hall. We did not get to do all the preservation work, due to funding, but it did help us to preserve the buildings, allowing them to continue being used by the college. Dr. Hampton is the fourth president that I've served under and each one has had a commitment to maintaining the historic district, the oldest part of the campus, and making sure that the history of the college and the history of the C.M.E. Church remained at the forefront.
How will this project engage students on campus about the role of preservation at HBCUs and preserving the legacy of the school?
Hampton: We are a liberal arts institution and because our history is very much a part of the school, Mass Communication students have been engaged in various aspects of how we tell the story of our campus and community. We have a student who's on the project steering committee, and each time we've had conversations about the project, the group of students will gather.
It is a project of the Student Government Association; its president has been fully involved in leading and organizing or recruiting students to engage with the project as thought leaders and partners in terms of how this project develops and how the historic district develops. Cleaves Hall, the residence hall in the historic district, is perhaps one of the more popular halls. Two times we've closed it for repairs, and then we closed it due to enrollment.
Each time that it was closed we worked diligently and proactively with our students to prevent protests and public displays of disappointment about Cleaves. So, our students are very sensitive to the importance of the historic buildings and dedicated to ensuring they continue in active use.
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