Having operated now for more than 140 years, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) was founded in 1875 as Branch Normal College by Joseph Carter Corbin, a native of Ohio and the son of former slaves. Corbin, who had a classical education, was the first African American superintendent of public education in Arkansas and literally built the school from the ground up. There was a desperate need for teachers in Arkansas, as there was a great desire for education by former slaves who had been prohibited from learning to read and write.
Corbin himself cleared the land that would soon house the college and then set about to create a school that would produce the first African American teachers following the Reconstruction years. For almost three decades, he worked tirelessly on behalf of Arkansas’s black community to meet the need for educators.
In the early days, Corbin worked both as the president and the janitor so that he could control costs and keep the school going. He often waived matriculation fees and other expenses to allow impoverished students the opportunity to graduate and become qualified to teach throughout Arkansas.
Although he might not have realized it at the time, Corbin was a member of the so-called aristocrats of color, the African American elite of national prominence and a group that included such luminaries as Booker T. Washington. Corbin was a true giant in the history of education in Arkansas. His story, told by a former UAPB student, is monumental for the scope of what one man was able to accomplish.