From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Forestry Education, Kentucky, African Americans

When the first African Americans earned forestry degrees in Kentucky, it was long after forestry schools were established and higher education was desegregated. This was not only true in Kentucky, but true of forestry programs throughout the United States and beyond. The history of African Americans in the forestry industry and forestry education continues to be uncovered, discovered, and documented.

Forestry education did not start in the United States. The first forestry school in the world is said to have been established in 1811 in Saxon City of Tharandt (Germany) under the leadership of Heinrich Cotta. In the United States in 1862, the Morrill Act provided funding for state cooperative programs for technical agricultural colleges, including one at the University of Kentucky (UK), a land-grant school with a College of Agriculture.

There were thousands of acres of woodland in Kentucky in 1862. A few years later, when enslaved
African Americans gained their freedom in Kentucky, they were faced with many obstacles in the forestry industry and excluded from the segregated higher education forestry program.

The first school in the United States that provided a scientific study of forestry was the Baltimore Forest School established in 1898 near Ashville, NC. According to the current research, the first African Americans to earn forestry degrees were Ralph E. Brock, a professional forester who graduated from a forestry academy in Pennsylvania in 1906, and Ellie Towns, who passed for white and earned his degree at Cornell University in 1926. Many decades later, in 2002, Alabama A&M University was the first and still the only Historically Black College/University (HBCU) to have an accredited forestry program. 

SOURCES: World's First Forestry School @ the Environmental and Society Portal; 1870 Census: Volume 3. The Statistics of the wealth and industry of the United States. Table IV.-State of Kentucky, pp. 158-165; M. B. Lucas, "African Americans on the Kentucky Frontier," The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, vol. 95, no. 2, (Spring, 1997), pp. 121-134; "African American Forest Landowners: overcoming obstacles," a USDA Southern Research Center webpage; "Black History Month: sustainable forestry and African American land retention," The American Chestnut Foundation webpage; Biltmore Forest School in NCpedia; "A Brief history of African Americans and Forests," by James G. Lewis and Robert Hendricks, 3/21/2006 (online at; Ralph E. Brock, a Pennsylvania Conservation Heritage Project webpage; and "Center for Excellence in Forestry," an Alabama A&M University webpage.

In Kentucky, in 1912, forestry education was recommended during the Senate session, including a request that a state forester be appointed by the Kentucky governor to handle forestry educational work [source: Journal of the Regular Session of the Senate, January 2, 1912, pp. 73-74]. In 1938, the UK College of Agriculture received approval for their request to the Curriculum Committee for a general introduction course in forestry, first semester 1938-39, three credits [source: University of Kentucky, University Senate (Faculty Senate) meeting minutes, May 9, 1938, p. 814, online at ExploreUK].

For the 1953-1954 school year, there was a pre-professional program for students who planned to study forestry. The program was part of the Southern Regional Plan that allowed for students to complete their bachelor degrees in forestry at one of the southern forestry schools. The UK program was offered as a bachelor's degree only,  to be earned in cooperation with the School of Forestry at Duke University. A student's first three years were spent in residency at UK taking liberal arts and science classes; the student's last two years were spent at the School of Forestry at Duke. Only seniors and graduate students were accepted at the Duke School of Forestry.

In 1962, UK President Frank G. Dickey advised the Board of Trustees that UK had established a Department of Forestry that was still being implemented [source: Minutes of the Board of Trustees, 5/5/1962, p. 2, online at ExploreUK]. In 2002, Dwight Cooke became the first African American to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Forestry from the University of Kentucky. 

The Master of Science in Forestry was listed in the UK class bulletin for the 1980-81 school year [source: University of Kentucky Graduate School Bulletin, 1980-1981, online at ExploreUK]. In 1998, Stephanie L. Bolen was the first African American to earn a Master of Science in Forestry at the UK. Twenty-one years prior, in 1979, Melody Mobley from Louisville was the first African American woman to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Forestry Management from the University of Washington, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS)

The University of Kentucky is the only higher education institution in the state to offer a forestry bachelor's degree and a master's degree.

For more about the UK forestry program during the years mentioned in this entry, see pp. 58-59 in the Bulletin of the University of Kentucky, General Catalog 1953-54, vol. 46, no. 5, May 1954;  pp. 126-127 in the University of Kentucky Bulletin Catalogue 1967-68; p. 132 in University of Kentucky Bulletin 1983-84; and other University of Kentucky bulletins available online at ExploreUK. For the list of 1998 forestry graduates who earned master degrees, see p. 94 in the Minutes of the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees, May 5, 1998.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Fayette County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Lexington, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

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“Forestry Education, Kentucky, African Americans,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed June 12, 2024,

Last modified: 2023-01-05 17:06:36