Ohio University Chillicothe, in conjunction with the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and Ohio University, held an Ohio historical marker unveiling honoring Joseph Carter Corbin June 28, 2017 on the OUC campus.
Corbin was a prolific African-American scholar, educator, author, linguist and musician born in Chillicothe to free African American parents, and was a trailblazer for educational opportunities for free African-Americans in the post-Civil War south.
He earned his undergraduate and two graduate degrees from Ohio University before moving to Arkansas. There, he was later elected State Superintendent of Public Education and served as principal of Branch Normal College which later became the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
Representatives from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, the City of Chillicothe, Ohio University and Ohio History Connection, as well as notable author and researcher Gladys Turner Finney, provided remarks during the ceremony.
“Today we honor and we remember Dr. Corbin for his vision, his dedication to education and his continuous uplifting of the black community,” said Dr. Shari Clarke, Ohio University Vice Provost of Diversity and Inclusion.
Dean of the Chillicothe campus, Dr. Martin Tuck, stated “I am grateful to get to play a small role in recognizing one of Chillicothe’s notable historic figures. It is my sincere hope that the many students and visitors who step foot onto our campus over the years will view this memorial and be reminded and inspired of Joseph Carter Corbin’s legacy of service and pursuit of educational advancement and opportunities for all.”
Dean Tuck accepted a proclamation from Congressman Steve Stivers who represents Ohio’s 15th district, as well as a certificate from the Ohio History Connection commemorating the day’s event.
Mayor of Chillicothe, Luke Feeney, said, “Mr. Corbin’s accomplishments…would be awe-inspiring today or any other time in history. But given the historical context of his accomplishments, the emotion I felt was pure amazement.” He went on to underscore the pride he felt in knowing that Corbin was born and raised in Chillicothe and was thankful for the opportunity to recognize his work.
In 1875, Corbin was appointed principal of Branch Normal College, which later became the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, an historically black college land-grant institution in South Central Arkansas.
Marla Mayberry, Vice Chancellor for Institutional Advancement at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, provided historical context to Carter’s work and his legacy at UAPB.
“In any event of new discoveries, new innovations or new developments, you can only be first once,” she said. “Professor Corbin was not a fearful man. Actually, he progressively maneuvered through limited resources and daunting conditions to establish Branch Normal College and associations who were educating teachers who were educating students. Professor Corbin had many firsts, and today the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff is humbled to have been led by such a man of distinction. Ultimately, he changed the history for many African Americans and minority students simply because of his love for education.”
Gladys Turner Finney, a prominent Dayton-area author and researcher who has written numerous publications and books on Corbin’s life, reflected on his impact.
“This prophet of education had the audacity of courage to establish Branch Normal College for the education of former slaves and their descendants. I am an heir to that legacy,” she underscored. “I am an heir of Professor Corbin’s legacy of education. I am the descendant of great-great grandparents who were slaves.”
Finney explained that when Corbin opened Branch Normal College in 1875, there were no eligible students. At the end of the Civil War in 1865, she said, there were 111,000 African American slaves in Arkansas and only five had attended school. With only seven students in his original class, ranging in age from nine to 15, Professor Corbin awarded the first bachelor’s degree in 1882.
“This inspired teacher is known as the father of higher education for African Americans in Arkansas. Professor Corbin’s unselfish devotion to education remains immortal and magnifies his hometown of Chillicothe, his native state of Ohio and his illustrious, beloved alma mater of Ohio University.”
She finished by urging those in attendance to “teach someone and help someone achieve their potential and make this world a better place,” in the spirit of Joseph Cater Corbin.
Finney was instrumental in working with Ohio University and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff to establish the historical marker and shine light on Carter’s significant work in education.
Rachel Foster, OUC coordinating council member, and Finney joined Dean Tuck to unveil the marker in front of Bennett Hall.
This new Ohio historical maker adds to the more than 1,600 markers throughout the state which identify, commemorate and honor the important people, places and events that have contributed to the state’s rich history.