Oakwood University
Former names
Oakwood Industrial School (1896–????)
Oakwood Manual Training School (????–1917)
Oakwood Junior College (1917–1932)
Oakwood College (1932–2008)
MottoEducation, Excellence, Eternity
TypePrivate, HBCU
Established1896 (128 years ago) (1896)
Religious affiliation
Seventh-day Adventist Church
Endowment$15.6 million[1]
PresidentLeslie Pollard
Location, ,

34°45′22″N 86°39′11″W / 34.756°N 86.653°W / 34.756; -86.653
CampusSuburban, 1,185 acres (480 ha)
ColorsBlue & Gold
Sporting affiliations
USCAA Division I – Independent
MascotThe Ambassador
Oakwood University Logo

Oakwood University is a private, historically black Seventh-day Adventist university in Huntsville, Alabama. It is the only HBCU owned and operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.[3]

Oakwood University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and the Department of Education of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (through the Adventist Accrediting Association) to award associate, baccalaureate, and master's degrees.

Oakwood University owns and operates the Christian radio station WJOU 90.1 FM, formerly WOCG.[4]

Oakwood University is the only ISO 9001 certified HBCU in the United States.[5]

In 2014, it became the first HBCU to offer a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).[6]

In 2018, the U.S. Senate recognized Oakwood University for being the fifth leading producer of African-American applicants to U.S. medical schools.[6] That same year, the university became the first academic institution to receive the 2018 Crystal Apple Award from the Partnership for a Healthier America for its campus wellness initiatives.[6][7]


Early years

Oakwood University has its origins in the post-Civil and post-slavery effort to fund higher education for African-Americans who had been freed in the South.[8][3] In response to the counsel of SDA Church co-founder Ellen G. White,[3] a committee was appointed by the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to buy property and create a school that offers vocational education and spiritual direction to African-American students.[9] In January 1896,[8] the committee bought a 360-acre (1.5 km2) former plantation for $6,700.[10][11] That same year, Oakwood University was founded as Oakwood Industrial School in Huntsville, Alabama, under the authority of the General Conference.[12]

Named for the oak trees surrounding it and the white SDA Church leaders' belief that industrial work is fitting for southern African-Americans,[3] students were initially required to work in industrial positions on-campus to pay for their tuition. Their jobs included machine shop and farm work for male students and print shop, laundry and tailor shop work for female students.[13] Classes commenced in November 1896[10] with 16 students enrolled.[10][12] Solon Marquis Jacobs served as the school's first principal beginning in 1896, and in 1917, James Irving Beardsley was appointed the first president.[8] By that same year, the school offered a theology program as well as a programs for various trades, such as farming, teaching, masonry and pre-nursing.[11][10] Prior to 1917, the school was renamed Huntsville Training School and Oakwood Manual Training School[10] before it became Oakwood Junior College.[12]

Social activism

In 1931, after years of student complaints about school conditions—including "heavy work schedules, low wages, the inability to accumulate academic credit due to the workloads" and racial segregation on campus—students went on strike, petitioning for better conditions, liberal arts programs, more African American faculty members and an African American president. In 1932, after student strikers leld a series of pep rallies, speeches and worship gatherings and sent a letter to the General Conference petitioning for change, the General Conference recruited more African Americans to Oakwood's faculty, making it predominantly African American. Additionally, the General Conference first invited two of Oakwood's white professors to become president in response to the strikes and petitions. It was only after the professors rejected the invitation that was it extended to James L. Moran, Oakwood's first African American president. Although Moran became president, the General Conference asserted that a white man would manage the school's business affairs and serve as the liaison between the school board and the General Conference, two roles typically held by the president of a higher education institution. It was under the leadership of President Moran that Oakwood attained earned four-year college status[12][3] and was renamed Oakwood College. [11]

Due to the conservative ideologies of the SDA Church, students' initial involvement in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s was restrained. Oakwood's non-participation stance, declared by the General Conference, discouraged faculty involvement in the movement. Despite this, after Oakwood hosted guest speaker Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1962—and was the only institution in Huntsville that would host him—some Oakwood students became moderately active in the movement. Because the SDA ideologies discouraged association with those outside of the Church, Oakwood students were disconnected from those at neighboring schools. Also, their access to news outlets such as radio and television was restricted and completely banned in dormitories, limiting their awareness of ongoing events related to the civil rights movement.[3][11][14]

The Church and the South's expectations for women hindered female students' freedom to choose to participate in civil resistance events, if they desired to do so. However, students were able to stay informed of protests through local black-owned radio station WEUP, and male students had more freedom in choosing whether to participate in sit-ins, prayer-ins and marches, store boycotts and other nonviolent acts of resistance. Their efforts to integrate local white SDA churches were met with hostility by segregationists. For example, white church officials called the police to remove black students from the church grounds and altered their worship service times to coincide with students' class times, preventing them from being able to attend. In spite of the SDA Church's efforts against students' activism, a few male Oakwood students formed activist coalitions with Alabama A&M University students or formed their own small activist groups which attempted to obtain service at establishments throughout Huntsville that would only serve white patrons.[3][11][14]

Accreditation and growth

Oakwood began with an initial enrollment of 16 students in 1896,[10][12][15] and increased to more than 100 by 1917 and 200 in 1927.[15]

It was initially accredited as a junior college in 1943,[15] and the school's first baccalaureate degrees were awarded in 1945.[12][10]

Between 1958 and 1963, Oakwood made progress toward full senior college accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and joined the United Negro College Fund in 1964.[10][15]

Oakwood's enrollment reached over 1,000 in 1974,[15] and from 1973 to 1982, the number of graduates increased from 124 to 200.[11]

By 2003, Oakwood offered liberal arts and professional degrees, and had an enrollment of approximately 1,700 with representation from 38 countries.[10][15]

In 2008, Oakwood College was renamed Oakwood University[15] and was approved to offer a graduate program in religion.[11] That same year, enrollment increased to 1,865 with representation from 42 U.S. states and 30 countries.[11] By fall 2012, enrollment reached 2,019.[15]

In 2014, Oakwood was approved to transfer from sponsorship under the General Conference to sponsorship under the North American Division.[6][16]

In 2016, Oakwood achieved full accreditation by the Adventist Accrediting Association.[6]


Oakwood University offers undergraduate and graduate degrees through the following schools:[17]

In 2004, Oakwood entered into a subcontractor agreement with Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) through the Unified NASA Information Technology Services (UNITeS) program.[18][19] By partnering to offer wireless technology support at Oakwood, ISO 9002 certification audit compliance, network engineering training, Federal contract training and human resources laboratory development, Oakwood and SAIC have been able to provide Oakwood students and graduates with STEM and business internships and part- and full-time work, generating ongoing business for the Oakwood community while supporting the space industry.[19][18]

In 2009, Oakwood was the first HBCU to enter NASA's Mentor-Protégé signing agreement with SAIC. Through the three-year agreement, SAIC continued to provide Oakwood with technology enhancement, contract management and business administration support and would also begin offering technical and engineering internships to students.[20][18] By 2015, Oakwood had entered into similar contracts with Boeing, Leidos and Honeywell, among others.[19]

Student activities

There are over 30 clubs and organizations on campus.[21]

Musical groups

The Aeolians, Oakwood University's premier touring ensemble, was founded in 1946 by former professor, Dr. Eva B. Dykes.[22] This choir has 45–60 members from various disciplines, and the group travels nationally and internationally as musical ambassadors for the university. The choir has visited Romania, Great Britain, Poland, Jamaica, and Bermuda among other locations. The group has also performed at the White House for President Bill Clinton and at the Kennedy Center, both in Washington, D.C. Other musical ensembles on campus include gospel choirs Dynamic Praise, Voices of Triumph, the group Serenity winners of the First Season of "Making The Group" reality show competition. Oakwood University is known for its legacy of great music. In 2010, an Oakwood-based vocal group, Committed, won the a capella TV competition The Sing-off.[23] In 2017, the choir was named Choir of the World at the National Eisteddfod of Wales Music Festival.[6] The group is featured in Jacob Collier's 2019 recording and video of Lionel Richie's song All Night Long (All Night).[24]

Academic competitions

At the 2008 Honda Campus All-Star Challenge National Championship Tournament in Orlando, Florida, Oakwood University team members brought home the trophy. This competition featured 64 teams from historically black colleges and universities around the nation. In addition to winning the championship, Oakwood University received a grant of $50,000 from the American Honda Motor Company. Both the quiz bowl and basketball teams adjusted their playing schedules to not play on Saturday, the day observed as the Sabbath (Oakwood University is a Seventh-day Adventist institution), and both teams still emerged as champions over Alcorn State University. At the 2009 Honda Campus All-Star Challenge National Championship Tournament, the team, led by captain Alesis Turner, returned to again be named the champions (the team played in the final rounds against North Carolina Central University). In 2017, Oakwood for the third time won the HCASC Tournament, defeating Bowie State University in the finals without losing a game the entire tournament. 2017 marked the 28th season of the tournament. The school joins Tuskegee University, Florida A&M University, and Morehouse College, as the only schools to win back-to-back championships at HCASC.[25]


The Oakwood athletic teams are called the Ambassadors and Lady Ambassadors. The university is a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), primarily competing in the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference (GCAC) since the 2022–23 academic year.[26] The Ambassadors and Lady Ambassadors previously competed as a member of the United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) until after the 2021–22 school year.[27]

Oakwood competes in five intercollegiate varsity sports: men's teams include basketball and soccer; while women's teams include basketball, soccer and volleyball. Former sports included baseball and softball.


The university also offers several intramural sport activities.[28]

Move to the NAIA

On January 20, 2022, Oakwood got an invitation to join the GCAC, along with Wiley College and the return of Southern University at New Orleans, effective beginning in July 2022.[26] The GCAC is an athletic conference affiliated with the NAIA.

Men's basketball

The Ambassadors men's basketball team won the 2008 USCAA National Championship in the team's first season a member of the association. The Ambassadors won their second USCAA Division I National Championship in March 2012 against Rochester College, and their third in March 2016.[29] The university became the first college or university in Alabama to win three men's basketball championships when the Ambassadors defeated Concordia College to win the 2016 USCAA Division I National Championship.[30] The Ambassadors men's basketball team won the university's fourth title in 2019 with a 58–57 win against Bluefield State.[31]

Adventist Colleges Abroad

Adventist Colleges Abroad is a program that allows Oakwood students to spend time studying at Adventist universities outside of the United States while earning credit for the degree they are pursuing at Oakwood.[32]

Principals and presidents

Everyone who served between 1896 and 1917 was a principal. Everyone listed afterward was a president.[8]

Notable alumni

Name Class year Notability Reference(s)
Dr. Delbert Baker 1975 Administrator, educator, author and former president of Oakwood University (currently serves on the White House Board for HBCUs)
Barry Black former U.S. Navy Chief of Chaplains and Chaplain of the U.S. Senate
Ronald Brise Florida State Representative
Angela Brown Soprano Opera Singer
Alvin Chea Member of the gospel group Take 6
Clifton Davis Actor, Pastor, Singer, Songwriter
T. R. M. Howard 1931 Civil Rights Leader, Surgeon, Entrepreneur, Mentor to Medgar Evers and Fannie Lou Hamer
Heather Knight 1982 President of Pacific Union College
Davido Nigerian Afropop musician
Brian McKnight R&B Singer/musician, and also brother of alumnus Claude McKnight
Claude McKnight Member of the gospel group Take 6
Wintley Phipps Pastor, Singer, Founder and President of U.S. Dream Academy
John F. Street Former mayor of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Mervyn Warren Member of the gospel group Take 6
Committed Winners of Season 2, NBC's The Sing Off
Amber Bullock 2011 Winner of Season 4 BET's Sunday Best
Little Richard American recording artist, singer-songwriter and actor. [33]
Eric Thomas 2001 Pastor, Motivational Speaker, Author, and Educator.
Sydney Freeman Jr. Educational theorist, author, and social scientist at the University of Idaho.

Further reading

See also


  1. ^ As of June 30, 2017. "Oakwood University has an endowment valued at nearly $15.6M, as of the end of the 2017 fiscal year. The return on its endowment was of $2.27M (14.5%), compared to the 7.76% average return ($2.88M on $37.1M) across all Baccalaureate Colleges".
  2. ^ Hashimoto, Giovanni (22 November 2011). "Adventist College and University Enrollment Generally Up". Spectrum. Archived from the original on 23 October 2014. Retrieved 23 November 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Fisher, Holly (2003). "Oakwood College Students' Quest for Social Justice before and during the Civil Rights Era". The Journal of African American History. 88 (2): 110–125. doi:10.2307/3559060. ISSN 1548-1867. JSTOR 3559060. S2CID 143226204. Retrieved 17 February 2022.
  4. ^ "Home - WJOU".
  5. ^ McLaughlin, Budd; Times, The Huntsville (27 February 2012). "Oakwood University a 'pioneer' with ISO 9001 certification". al. Retrieved 25 February 2022.
  6. ^ a b c d e f "2018 PRESIDENT'S REPORT" (PDF). Oakwood University. Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  7. ^ "Oakwood University Receives the Crystal Apple Award for Campus Wellness Initiatives". spectrummagazine.org. Retrieved 17 March 2022.
  8. ^ a b c d "Oakwood University". Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved 17 February 2022.
  9. ^ Bynum, Victoria E. (1 February 2003). The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War. Univ of North Carolina Press. p. xiii. ISBN 978-0-8078-5467-9.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i Land, Gary (16 July 2009). The A to Z of the Seventh-Day Adventists. Scarecrow Press. p. 217. ISBN 978-0-8108-6826-7. Retrieved 17 February 2022.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h "Oakwood University". Encyclopedia of Alabama. Retrieved 17 February 2022.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Knight, George R. (1999). A Brief History of Seventh-Day Adventists. Review and Herald Pub Assoc. p. 104. ISBN 978-0-8280-1430-4. Retrieved 17 February 2022.
  13. ^ Beito, David T.; Beito, Linda Royster (2009). Black Maverick: T.R.M. Howard's Fight for Civil Rights and Economic Power. University of Illinois Press. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-252-03420-6. Retrieved 17 February 2022.
  14. ^ a b Wherry, Xavier (17 January 2022). "'An atmosphere of pride': Remembering Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech at Oakwood University". WAAY 31 News. Retrieved 3 March 2022.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h "Oakwood University Fact Book 2012-2013" (PDF). Oakwood University. 4 October 2016. Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  16. ^ "Oakwood Seeks to Become NAD Institution | Adventist Review". adventistreview.org. 27 September 2014. Retrieved 17 March 2022.
  17. ^ "Home - Graduate Programs".
  18. ^ a b c "Small Business Success Story: NASA-SAIC-Oakwood Mentor-Protégé Relationship" (PDF). Office of Small Business Programs. No. 18. Fall 2011. Retrieved 25 February 2022.
  19. ^ a b c Cotton, Sabrina (12 June 2015). Oakwood Magazine: Summer 2015 (Summer 2015 ed.). Oakwood University. pp. 16–17. Retrieved 25 February 2022.
  20. ^ Humphery, Betty. "NASA - NASA Mentor-Protégé Signing Agreement Between SAIC, Oakwood University Makes History". www.nasa.gov. Retrieved 25 February 2022.
  21. ^ "Life at Oakwood - Oakwood University". 24 May 2017.
  22. ^ "Aeolians". Archived from the original on 20 July 2011. Retrieved 7 October 2019.
  23. ^ Wright, Jared. Oakwood University Vocalists Star on NBC's "Sing-Off" Spectrum Blog, December 7, 2010. Includes video of their performance.
  24. ^ "Jacob Collier with Metropole Orkest Djesse, Vol. 1". March 2019. Retrieved 7 October 2019.
  25. ^ "Honda Campus All-Star Challenge".
  26. ^ a b "GCAC Extends Membership To Oakwood University, Wiley College, Southern University at New Orleans". January 20, 2022. Retrieved February 2, 2022.
  27. ^ "The USCAA Membership: Oakwood University". USCAA. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  28. ^ "Intramural Sports". Oakwood University Athletics. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  29. ^ Staff (March 2012). "Oakwood University Wins USCAA National Men's Basketball Championship". Adventist Today News. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  30. ^ Culpepper, Reginald (March 10, 2016). "Ambassadors of Oakwood University Win USCAA Basketball Championship". HBCU Connect. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  31. ^ "Oakwood Wins Men's Division I National Championship, Fourth in School History". USCAA. March 9, 2019. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  32. ^ "Adventist Colleges Abroad". Oakwood University. Archived from the original on 2010-05-27. Retrieved 2010-01-13.
  33. ^ Hall, Kristin (2020-09-25). "Little Richard to be buried at historically black college". PBS NewsHour. Retrieved 2020-09-25.