A historically black college in Columbia, Benedict College was founded in 1870 on the site of an eighty-acre plantation. Rhode Island native Bathsheba Benedict, serving with the Baptist Home Mission Society, purchased the property with the long-term goal of educating recently emancipated African Americans.
Originally named Benedict Institute, the school began with a class of ten men, one building (a dilapidated former slave master’s house), and one teacher, the Reverend Timothy L. Dodge, a college-educated northern minister who would become the school’s first president. These first students followed a curriculum of grammar school subjects, Bible study, and theology. Later, additional courses were added to train Benedict’s students for work as teachers and ministers.
In 1894 the school was chartered by the General Assembly as a liberal arts college and became Benedict College. During the next three and a half decades, the college continued to be led by white northern clergymen. In 1930, however, the first African American president was appointed. The Reverend John J. Starks, an 1891 graduate of Benedict, began a succession of African American leaders of the college.
Throughout the twentieth century, Benedict College expanded its campus, its curriculum, its student body, and its significance to the Columbia region and beyond. Scholars such as Benjamin Mays and Benjamin Payton helped to bring national attention to Benedict, as did the achievements of its alumni, which included the civil rights activists Septima Clark and Modjeska Simkins. During the 1990s, the section of the campus at the corner of Harden and Taylor Streets in downtown Columbia underwent substantial renovations to all of its historic sites, dormitories, and administration buildings. Also in the 1990s, football returned to Benedict after a twenty-nine-year hiatus. Shortly thereafter, Benedict and South Carolina State University briefly rekindled their football rivalry in the Palmetto Capital City Classic until South Carolina State pulled out in 2004.
By the end of the twentieth century, under the leadership of Dr. David Swinton, Benedict College saw its enrollment grow to nearly three thousand students, making it, in terms of enrollment, one of the largest historically black colleges in the Carolinas and one of the largest private colleges in South Carolina. In 2003 the college broke ground on its multimillion-dollar, sixty-one-acre LeRoy Walker Athletic and Wellness Complex (named after Olympic president emeritus Dr. LeRoy T. Walker, alumnus of the class of 1940). The college planned the complex not only to serve the fitness needs of students and faculty, but also to house the stadium of the Benedict Tigers football team. In 2004 Benedict began developing graduate courses in business and religion to complement its bachelor’s degree offerings in twenty-nine areas.
Davis, Marianna W. The Enduring Dream: History of Benedict College, 1870–1995. Columbia, S.C.: Benedict College, 1995.