Dr. Joseph Carter Corbin, principal of Branch Normal College (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) is among the 2018 list of inductees into the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame. The posthumous honor will be received on Corbin’s behalf by nominator and AM&N alumna Dr. Gladys Turner Finney.
“Professor Corbin used his education to change the world by making higher education available to former slaves and their descendants,” Finney said. “His unselfish devotion to educating others still remains, is immortal, and magnifies his birthplace, native state and alma mater.”
Corbin was born March 26, 1833 in Chillicothe, Ohio and was the son of former slaves, William and Susan Corbin, from Virginia. In 1850, he entered Ohio University at Athens as a sophomore and graduated in 1853, the third African American to attend Ohio University and the second to complete a bachelor’s degree. He would use his college degree to empower and establish a pathway for other African Americans to achieve higher education. In the years following his graduation from Ohio University, he served two terms as an elected trustee of the Cincinnati Colored School Board. Corbin was editor and co-publisher of the Colored Citizen Newspaper of Cincinnati from 1863-1869, when exercise of free speech by African Americans was difficult and dangerous.
During Reconstruction of the South following the Civil War, Corbin migrated to Little Rock, Arkansas to make his mark and spread higher education. Shortly after arriving in Arkansas, he was elected State Superintendent of Public Education. As Superintendent, he served as President of the Board of Trustees of the Arkansas Industrial University (now the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville). In this role, he helped lay the foundation for a branch of the University at Pine Bluff for the education of African American teachers.
Corbin opened Branch Normal College on September 27, 1875 and served the next 27 years as its principal. Under Dr. Corbin’s leadership, Branch Normal College produced the first college educated African American in Arkansas. Corbin died January 9, 1911 in Pine Bluff and is buried in Forest Park, Illinois.
Joseph Carter Corbin is known as the “father of higher education for African Americans in Arkansas,” but his work had national impact. His advancement of education as a civil right for freed slaves and their descendants was not without personal sacrifice, political opposition, discrimination, and racism. Dr. Corbin was honored recently in his native Ohio with a historical marker at Ohio University – Chillicothe.
Dr. Gladys Turner Finney was born in Tamo (Jefferson County, Arkansas), and was a member of the last graduating class of J. C. Corbin High School in Pine Bluff. She holds a Master of Social Work degree from the Atlanta University School of Social Work. Her distinguished career as a clinician, teacher, and administrator in the field of social work spanned nearly four decades. In 2012, Finney’s undergraduate alma mater, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, conferred on her the Honorary Doctorate of Laws degree for her long commitment to social work and for her efforts in empowering others through advocacy and philanthropy. Author of the book, Joseph Carter Corbin: Educator Extraordinaire and Founder of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, she currently resides in Dayton, Ohio.
The Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame was created in 2009 through the collaborative efforts of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, Honda of America Mfg., Inc., Wright State University, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and PNC.* The Civil Rights Hall of Fame seeks to acknowledge outstanding Ohioans who are recognized as pioneers in human and civil rights and who have advanced the goals of equality and inclusion. Inductees of the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame are individuals who have made significant contributions in support of civil rights, cultural awareness and understanding in furtherance of a more just society.