Southern University turns 100 on the Bluff

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - When Anthony Ferdinand, his nephew Wilbert Jr., and his great nephew Wilbert the third talk about their childhood, there's a common theme -- Southern University.

Fond memories of football games, the band, the homecoming parades, and tailgating.

"It has always been special going to Southern's homecoming," Anthony says. "that how I got hooked on it."

Other family members got  hooked too. Twenty-six relatives are now Southern graduates including Anthony and his nephews.

"It just felt right to go to Southern," Wilbert III says.  "It felt like home."

"My parents never said you had to go to Southern, but I knew if I wasn't going to Southern there had to be a good reason to not go to Southern," says Wilbert Jr. " That was just the expectation that you would go to Southern."

The Ferdinand's legacy is part of Southern's rich history.

A history that is being celebrated as the Jaguar Nation marks 100 years on the bluff.

The school was founded in 1880 in New Orleans, but relocated to Baton Rouge.

When the university opened its doors in 1914, the building which is now called the Archives and Information Center was the only building on campus. It housed the administration. It's where classes were taught and it even served as a girls dorm.

Everett Gibson is an alumnus and retired Southern Math Professor.

"It's amazing especially when you look at the history," Gibson says. "It started out with one building, nine professors, and 47 students. And look at where we are today. Now we have more than 200 buildings worth more than $200 million."

Gibson recently wrote a history of the school, profiling hundreds of outstanding Southernites like the first President J.S. Clark and his son, Felton G. Clark, the second president.

He credits Felton with putting Southern on the map, establishing the law school and the engineering department.

"He raised Southern University from a state institution to national importance," Gibson says.

He also features people like Huel Perkins who wrote the fight song, A.W. Mumford, the winningnest coach in the school's history, and Jewel Prestage, the first African American woman to get a phd in political science.

"We've achieved a lot," Gibson says.  "But if you don't know about it, it doesn't register in your mind. I want you to be aware that it made tremendous progress especially in the life of the Black middle class moving up in society."

Margaret Ambrose is the chair of the centennial celebration. She's spent 40 years at Southern, mostly as an administrator.

She says even with budget cuts and declining enrollment, Southern has faced challenges head on.

"One of the things historical institutions have been accustomed to is having to do much with little and Southern University is an expert at that," Ambrose says.  "We've had to be and that's how we've survived."

To celebrate their milestone, officials are planning a year-long celebration starting later this month.

Meanwhile, the Ferdinands are getting ready to celebrate too.

Another graduation this Spring. Number 27.

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