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

The Fight for the ROTC Program at Kentucky State College

President Rufus B. Atwood took the lead in requesting an ROTC program and classes at his school, Kentucky State College (now Kentucky State University). It was a long fight. The request started in 1942 in support of the war effort.

By order of the War Department, Major John E. Brannon of the University of Kentucky Military Department inspected Kentucky State College for Negroes as a proposed site for a Negro ROTC infantry unit. Major Brannon's recommendation was filed with the War Department. President Atwood's request was refused, though it was said to be an idea supported by Kentucky senators, congressmen, and Kentucky Governor Keen Johnson.

In 1948 there was a drive on the campus of Kentucky State College to obtain an ROTC program. The drive was said to have been supported by Kentucky Governor Earle Clements, U.S. Senators from Kentucky, and Representative Virgil Chapman (D-KY), who represented the district where Kentucky State College was located. 

In 1953 President Atwood was still fighting to get an ROTC program at Kentucky State College. He took his request to the Pentagon and Capitol Hill in Washington, D. C. The state of Kentucky was one of four states with Negro colleges that did not have an ROTC program; the other three states were Georgia, Arkansas, and Mississippi. U. S. Senator Earle Clements supported the request and wrote a letter to Major General H. M. Milton of the Pentagon asking that an ROTC program be established at Kentucky State College in the fall term of 1953.

There was also a push from the newly renamed Kentucky Teachers Association (KTA). [The organization was previously named Kentucky Negro Educational Association (KNEA).] A resolution was put forth at the 1954 KTA Conference and an article in the first issue of The K.T.A. Kernel. The article was a plea for ROTC programs in African American high schools and at Kentucky State College. In The Courier-Journal article about the K.T.A. Conference, the lack of ROTC training was mentioned: "The K.T.A. opposed ... 2. Unequal opportunities for all Kentucky boys to prepare for military service through R.O.T.C. programs."

Kentucky State College would not be allowed to create an independent ROTC program. President Atwood retired from the school in 1962. The present-day ROTC program is a partnership program with the University of Kentucky Wildcat Battalion. In the 1970s, the University of Kentucky (UK) developed its ROTC program into a cross-enrolled program that would allow nearby colleges and universities that did not have an ROTC program to join into a partnership with UK and offer an ROTC program on their campus.

The partnership was in place in 1982 when the UK ROTC Program was said to be the second-largest program in the U.S. with 1,290 students. This number included ROTC cadets from Kentucky State University, Transylvania University, Georgetown College, and Centre College.

Read more about the K-State ROTC program at  Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) at Kentucky State University.

Sources: "R.O.T.C. possibilities at K.S.I.C. surveyed," The Lexington Leader, 3/18/1942, p. 18; Tarleton Collier, "Negro college overcame difficulty in gearing school for war," The Courier-Journal, 12/18/1942, p. 17; "Seeks Negro ROTC," The Owensboro Inquirer, 7/5/1948, p. 8; Robert L. Riggs, "R. O. T. C. unit sought again by Atwood," The Courier-Journal, 2/20/1953, p. 18; "Clements asks R.O.T.C. for Kentucky State," The Courier-Journal, 2/21/1953, p. 5; "Integration of schools inevitable, KTA told," The Courier-Journal, 4/18/1953, p. 3; "R. O. T. C. plan urged for Kentucky schools," K.T.A. Kernel, Official Publication of the Kentucky Teachers Association, v. 1, no. 1, May-June 1954, front page; Jim Warren, "Shedding stigma of '60s, ROTC makes comeback on campuses," Sunday Herald-Leader, 11/21/1982, Section B, pp. B1-B2; University of Kentucky U.S. Army ROTC, College of Arts & Sciences.

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“The Fight for the ROTC Program at Kentucky State College,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed June 22, 2024,

Last modified: 2023-06-07 16:39:08