Headstone for UAPB founding father to be dedicated

FOREST PARK, IL – The dedication of a new headstone for Joseph Carter Corbin, founding father of Branch Normal College (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) will be erected at Forest Home Cemetery, 863 Des Plaines Avenue, at 12:00 Noon Memorial Day, May 27.

Located at the West Front, Section F, Lot 44 of the cemetery, the grave was unmarked until now. The inscription will honor Professor Corbin as founder of Branch Normal, the father of higher education for African Americans in Arkansas, and his “gift of education to countless generations.” The headstone is sponsored by the Joseph Carter Corbin Headstone Project; co-sponsored by the Black History Commission of Arkansas and Alumni and Friends of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

Spearheading the research it took to find the headstone was Dr. Gladys Turner-Finney, a graduate of Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal (AM&N) College and historian in her own right. A member of the African Americans of Miami Valley, Dr. Turner-Finney thought it would be interesting to write about Corbin since he was an Ohio native.

“I thought it was strange that no one knew where he was interred,” says Turner-Finney. “Arkansas was not doing statewide death certificate registration at that time.”

She found Corbin’s resting place by researching information about his wife Mary Jane Corbin and found his resting place in Illinois. “It just all fell into place.”

The featured speaker will be U.S. Congressman, the Honorable Danny Davis, who represents Illinois’ 7th District, including Forest Park, and is a 1961 graduate of AM&N College (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff).

Joseph Carter Corbin

Born March 26, 1833 in Chillicothe, Ohio, Joseph Carter Corbin was an American Educator, scholar, linguist, mathematician, and musician. At the age of seventeen, he enrolled at Ohio University, and three years later received the B. A. degree in Art. Later, he would earn two master’s degrees from Ohio University (1856 and 1889). He is one of Ohio University ‘s most scholarly graduates of the mid-19th Century.

Corbin migrated to Arkansas in 1872. Later that year, he ran and was elected State Superintendent of Public Education on the Republican ticket. In this position, he served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the newly-formed Arkansas Industrial University (now the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville). It was during this time that he recommended a college “for the education of the poorer classes.” In 1875, Corbin became founder and principal of Branch Normal College (predecessor of AM&N College and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) where he served until 1902. He then became principal of Merrill High School. He was a leader in the public education movement and Prince Hall Masons in Arkansas. Corbin died January 9, 1911, in Pine Bluff and was interred January 14, 1911 at Waldheim German Cemetery, now Forest Home.

Details: Gladys Turner Finney, Chairperson, Joseph Carter Corbin Headstone Project, 3955 Denlinger Road, Dayton, Ohio 45426; 937-837-0498.

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