Price Public Community Center & Swift Museum has a storied past in Rogersville, Tenn., where it began as Swift Memorial College. The community center and museum now serves as a symbol of progress and racial reconciliation.
Swift Memorial College was founded in 1883 by the Rev. William H. Franklin, a Presbyterian minister and the first African-American to graduate from Maryville College, a private college in Maryville, Tenn. In its early years, Swift Memorial College served as a high school and provided teacher education courses for black students. The college was named after the Rev. Elijah E. Swift, the president of the Board of Missions for Freedmen of the Presbyterian Church and pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Pennsylvania.
In 1901, Tennessee’s Jim Crow laws were extended to private institutions, which forced Maryville College to expel all of its black students.
Maryville College had been one of the first American colleges to admit black students. In order to help ensure that the displaced students and other black students would continue to have access to higher education, trustees from Maryville College transferred $25,000 to Swift Memorial College. The trustees’ brave action, along with help from the Presbyterian Board of Missions, enabled Swift to expand its curriculum, and in 1904, Swift Memorial College became a four-year institution.
Franklin retired in 1926 after 43 years with the college. In 1929, the Tennessee State Board of Education designated Swift Memorial College as Swift Memorial Junior College, which later expanded to include high school. The college closed in 1955 when the Presbyterian Board of Missions ended its financial support, but the high school remained.
In 1958, Swift Memorial Junior College was renamed Swift High School. Shortly thereafter, Price Public Elementary School closed due to financial difficulties, requiring Swift High School to expand to include students in kindergarten through 12th grade. During the 1960s, when integration took place in Rogersville, Swift High School’s students were transferred to the local city and county schools, and Swift High School was demolished.
In 1988, the Price Public School building, although no longer a school, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In the mid-1990s, leaders of the African-American community worked with the American Legion Auxiliary-Unit 231 and various organizations and businesses to restore the Price Public School building, which is now the site of the Price Public Community Center & Swift Museum, and offers hands-on activities for children to connect with and explore African-American history, culture and diversity.