Liberty University is probably one of the least known aspects of the movement for the redemption of Africa. The Universal Negro Improvement Association, founded by Marcus Garvey, was sought out to purchase the school. Located in Claremont, Surrey, Virginia on the south shore of the James River, the school was originally founded by John Jefferson Smallwood, the grandson of Nat Turner.
The UNIA was approached by the board of trustees of the Smallwood-Corey Industrial Institute after Smallwood’s premature death. The Smallwood-Corey Institute was acquired by the UNIA for $7,300 on June 19, 1926 with UNIA acting President-General Frederick Augustus Toote as trustee. For that sum the UNIA received the property itself, including twelve buildings along with assumption of the institute’s debts of merely $53,000. Among the school’s facilities were:
- Three halls named Bagley, Sawyer and Lincoln
- Cottages named Mayflower, Sunnyside and Roslyn (aka Roseland)
- two sheds, a barn, power house, pump house, and pavillion
The main building on the school’s campus, itself estimated to be worth $100,000 was renamed Garvey Hall. Overall the property was appraised at $250,000.
The renamed Liberty University began its first year of operation on September 15, 1926.
Its first commencement exercises were conducted on Sunday, May 29, 1927. The ceremonies spanned several days. Events commemorating the occasion included “a oratorical contest, a play, an alumni dinner, and an alumni meeting.
Eventually, the property was sold. It is currently not occupied by the university. The image above demonstrates the layout and buildings at the time of purchase. This site is also notable for being the place where the second cargo of Africans brought to America in 1622. With it’s takeover by the UNIA the “John Hay Wharf,” previously known as “Old Claremont Wharf” the landing site for newly arrived Africans in the USA could now be the launching point for Africans working to bring into existence a redeemed, renewed and revitalized Africa.