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BOOK REVIEW: Journey to preserve Owen College legacy is a mission accomplished

  • Written by Wiley Henry

owencollege 600Preserving the legacy of an educational institution that thrived for 14 years in the South Memphis community and produced future leaders is worth the nearly two years that it took for a group of former students, faculty and staff to publish their efforts in a book entitled "The Legacy of Owen College: 1954-1968."

Produced by GrantHouse Publishers, The Owen College History Committee began its quest in April 2012 to save and secure the legacy of Owen College. Throughout its years of operation, the college enrolled nearly 4,000 men and women. Many of them would go on to succeed in life and add their accomplishments to the annals of Memphis and Shelby County as well.

The project was a labor of love for the approximately 20-member committee that set out to preserve the legacy of the accredited two-year liberal arts college for African Americans before a funding shortage forced a merger in 1968 with LeMoyne College to form The LeMoyne-Owen College.

Owen College is indeed preserved in the book's compilation of essays, editorials and news stories, reflections and profiles and rare photographs of students and their activities in and around the 12-acre campus that originally was located at the corner of Vance Avenue and South Orleans Street.

Aficionados, historians, history buffs or those who simply were too young to grasp the historic significance of Owen College would find this book to be a good read, a wellspring of information, and a keepsake for future generations.

For those who matriculated and graduated from Owen College, the book invokes fond memories. It also serves as tangible evidence that the college that the Tennessee Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention founded in 1946 stood at the forefront of higher education and conferred associates degrees on those with a hankering to succeed.

"The Legacy of Owen College" is a reference book per se that whets the appetite of the person searching for trustworthy information that is not as easy to find in the public domain. It is a testament to the committee's hard work and perseverance to locate and preserve information that otherwise would have gone unnoticed in personal and private collections.

The book cover is symmetrically designed with simple typography, a black and white photograph of Owen College's administration building and a circular emblem encasing the college's name and the year 1954, all formatted on a white background.

Inside is a valid record of people, events, activities, annuals, and personal accounts of college life within the periphery of a community that embraced the college's mission to provide a Christian education and career opportunities for African Americans.

For those interested in the preservation of history for history sake, the book is age-appropriate and should be offered to students in public schools who may or may not be aware that Owen College existed as an independent institution separate from LeMoyne College.

Named in honor of Samuel Augustus Owen Sr., the president of TBMEC and founder of Owen College, the book is a worthy investment. The contents therein trace the college's history from inception to the acquisition of its property by the Memphis Board of Education in 1968. It deserves ample shelf space alongside other historic annals and should be utilized as a teaching tool.

Beatrice Williams summed up her feelings for Owen College in her final editor's message in the college's 1968 yearbook, "The Green Hornet": "Without the cooperation of faculty, staff, students, other members of the Owen family, and local and out-of-town contributions, the story of this great institution would be only half told."

"The Legacy of Owen College: 1954-1968"
By The Owen College History Committee
226 pp. GrantHouse Publishers

NOTE: (Dr. Miriam DeCosta Willis and other Owen College alumni involved with "The Legacy of Owen College" will be on hand for a book signing at the Dorothy Harris Lounge in the Hanson Student Center at The LeMoyne-Owen College at 804 Walker Ave. on Saturday (Feb. 22) from 2 to 4 p.m.)

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