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Daniel Payne College

Selma and Birmingham, Alabama



The Educator covers early school history.  Encyclopedia of African Methodism has a short history of the school to 1947.  Rosa Young’s autobiography, Light in the Dark Belt, has a chapter on her life as a student at Payne University.  The 1926 ad (right) is from the Birmingham Reporter.

Payne ad_edited.jpg


Payne University, named for Bishop Daniel Payne, was created by four “fathers” of the African Methodist Episcopal Church congregation in Selma for the “education of the colored youth of the race and especially those of the A.M.E. church.”  It opened on November 4, 1889, with 88 students.  Adopted by the A.M.E. church, it was incorporated in 1903.


Rosa Young entered Payne University as a seventh-grader in 1903. Over the next six years she was a member of the Payne Literary Society, the Loyal Temperance League, and the Allen League. She also became editor of the Payne Sentinel, the student newspaper.  Before her graduation in 1909, she won the school’s oratorical contest.  The Encyclopedia of African Methodism says that shortly after this date, a brass band and a school orchestra were organized and the “music of the school became known throughout the state.” 



The 1906 Occasional Papers for Trustees of the John F. Slater Fund notes that Payne University had no collegiate department.  It showed a total enrollment of 505 with 208 of those in high school and 297 in elementary.  By 1911 this figure was down to 337.  Of these, 75 were high school or normal students, and 262 were elementary students.  An additional six students were enrolled in theology.  


The Encyclopedia shows that between 1912 and 1916, Payne began sending out students with college degrees.   The 1916 advertisement in the Montgomery Advertiser calls Payne a “higher education” institution.  Among the 14 listed faculty members were six whose teaching appears to be at collegiate level—including Latin, geometry, ethics and Bible. But the faculty also included instructors of sewing and millinery as well as business subjects.  


A 1917 note in the Advertiser shows that Payne had opened a correspondence division for primary, normal, college, and theology students. That first year it attracted 41 students from 12 states. 


As early as 1917, newspapers reported that Payne University was dissatisfied with the proximity of the Selma waste disposal system to the campus.  In 1920, newspapers reported that the school had purchased the St. Joseph’s Catholic School campus in Montgomery.  However, it was not until 1927 that Payne University actually moved to Birmingham and changed its name to Greater Payne University.  Then in 1940 it took the name Daniel Payne College, as being more in line with its actual work—as a two-year college.


Financial problems brought on in part by 1977 tornado damage caused the school to declare bankruptcy and close in 1979.

Instrumental in establishing Lutheran schools and churches for African-Americans, Rosa Young was a student at Payne University 1903-09.  Image from Light in the Dark Belt.;view=1up;seq=18

Accessed 12-8-2017.

Bishop Gaines Hall in Selma.  Image from The Educator.;view=1up;seq=78   Accessed 12-8-2017.

Bricks and Mortar

The original school building was a two-story frame building in a “very desirable part of the town” of Selma.  In 1904, Gaines Hall--a two-story brick building--was erected.  It contained six large classrooms and a chapel or assembly room.  The original building became a girls’ dormitory.    


The Fountain Administration Building (1928) was the first of five major buildings erected on the Birmingham campus.  To make way for airport expansion, the city of Birmingham purchased that campus, providing land for a new campus on the north side of town-- “153 breathtaking acres of Southern Pine trees, rolling hills and lush wetlands.” The tornado of 1977 caused extensive damage to the new campus.  Today, the A.M.E. has built Daniel Payne Legacy Village on the site.


            Team Name: Dragons


Available newspapers show a few football games played between 1956 and 1962.  Opponents included regional HBCU colleges—Tougaloo in Alabama, Vorhees in South Carolina, Morristown and Lane in Tennessee, Edward Waters in Florida, Oklolona and Rust in Mississippi. 


The 1956 basketball team won 9 of 12 games.  Until closure, the Dragons played as an  NAIA District 30 independent.  Opponents included many of the HBCU schools from the region.












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