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William T. Vernon

William T. Vernon

Photo: Library of Congress

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  • 1871 – 1944 

    Bishop William T. Vernon served twice in leadership positions — including president — at Western University in Quindaro, Kansas, the first African American college founded west of the Mississippi River. 

    Born in Lebanon, Missouri, he went on to become valedictorian of his graduating class at Lincoln University, a historically Black university in Jefferson City, Missouri, in 1890. He later earned a degree in theology from Wilberforce University in Ohio. In 1896, Vernon was appointed president of Western University. Under his administration, Western developed its industrial training curriculum and acquired financial support from the state legislature. 

    Vernon left the school in 1906 to serve as register of the U.S. Treasury during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidential administration. He was consecrated a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church in 1920 and worked for four years in South Africa. After his return to the United States in 1924, he continued as a bishop in the Midwest. Vernon returned to Western University in 1933, serving as superintendent of its industrial department until 1938. Western University was severely affected by the Great Depression and was finally forced to close in 1943.