Bluefield State College during Civil Rights Movement

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About 70 years after Bluefield State College was born a movement rocked the landscape of the college. The Civil Rights Movement began and with it came unrest. 

Bluefield State’s administration changed and black student enrollment dwindled.

In the 1960s the last African American president had left Bluefield State, and though no one knew it at the time, his departure would signal major changes at the institution, and the drama of social unrest that had gripped the entire country would play out in a small southern West Virginia town.

The new President came from Glenville State College and was the first white president of Bluefield State. When he arrived, nearly 20 of the black staff members at Bluefield State were let go and replaced by white staffers.

“The acrimony and unrest that was certainly identical in nature and thrust and emotion to what was going on nationally, was also going on at Bluefield State College,” former media relations specialist Jim Nelson said. 

It got so bad at the college, Nelson said students threw rocks at the president during a presentation at a homecoming game.

“When he got back to campus and lived in Hatter Hall, it was then the president’s house,” Nelson said. “He was hung in effigy at that time, that was sort of the spark, if you will, at BSC.”

Later in the 1960s, right before Thanksgiving break, a bomb exploded inside the Bluefield State gym sparking a political firestorm that engulfed the college.

“In those days, I believe the state BOE governed K-16. the reaction was to close student housing on campus,” Nelson said. “The reaction was these quote agitators or trouble makers quote were from out of this area. and if there was no where for these people to live overnight, then maybe the unrest would go away or subside.”

With the dormitories closed, Nelson said the student population dwindled. Students were not willing to attend the college if they could not stay there.

Bluefield State was the only four year college in West Virginia unable to offer housing until the early 2000s.

After four decades of struggling to keep the student population up without living space, Bluefield is fighting to bring back their dorms, and the current President of Bluefield State said the move will change the course of her college.

“It’s transformational. this institution transforms our students and we’re looking to this plan to transform Bluefield State,” Nelson said. “In some ways it actually takes us back to the future because we used to be a residential institution and we’re bringing that back because that will give students the opportunity well beyond now for commuting.”

Dr. Krosteng said the new plan will go into effect within the next 4-6 years.

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