By David J. Kent
Friday, August 13, 2021
Mississippi State University is again benefitting from its relationship with Frank and Virginia Williams. The former Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court and his wife enhanced their support for Lincoln research by establishing an endowed faculty chair dedicated to the study of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War.
Previously they had given their collection of Lincoln and Civil War memorabilia to Mississippi State (MSU). Valued at over $3 million, the Collection of Lincolniana is one of the largest such collection in the world.
Despite its location in the deep South, MSU owes its existence to a direct connection with Abraham Lincoln. In early July 1862, Abraham Lincoln signed the Land-Grant College Act. His predecessor James Buchanan had vetoed the idea in 1859, but with Lincoln’s encouragement, Senator Justin Morrill reintroduced it for easy congressional passage and Lincoln’s welcome signature. The Act donated federal land to the states, which could sell them to establish a permanent endowment to fund public colleges. The Act required these colleges to teach “scientific and classical studies” and to “promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes” in agricultural and the mechanical arts. Iowa quickly accepted the provisions of the Act and designated its existing Iowa State Agricultural College (now Iowa State University) as the first official land-grant college. The first new institution created under the Act was Kansas State University. Isaac Funk, a close friend of Lincoln’s, founded the first land-grant college in Illinois. Others soon followed, including many in the South to aid its post-war rejuvenation. MSU was one of those colleges.
Frank Williams has long been a leader in Abraham Lincoln and Civil War studies from his judicial bench in Rhode Island. As the longtime president of the Ulysses S. Grant Association, he was instrumental in bringing the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library to MSU. He is the founding chair of The Lincoln Forum and has served on both the United States Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and as a board member of its successor organization, the Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation.
In 2017 he and his wife donated their Lincoln collection to MSU, so it was only natural that they endow the new faculty chair. As noted in their press release, "The Frank and Virginia Williams Chair for Abraham Lincoln and Civil War Studies position will be two-fold, with responsibilities in both the MSU Libraries and the College of Arts and Sciences’ African American Studies program. Although the duties in the two areas differ in function, they share a collective purpose for teaching and inspiring current and future generations on the importance of history in contemporary society."
Read more about the new endowment on the MSU website.
(Photo by Beth Wynn from the MSU website link above)