“Savannah State University (SSU) is the oldest public historically black college or university in the state of Georgia and the oldest institution of higher learning in the city of Savannah.”
Savannah State University (SSU) is the oldest public historically black college or university in the state of Georgia and the oldest institution of higher learning in the city of Savannah. The school was established in 1890 as a result of the Second Morrill Land Grant Act, which mandated that southern and border states develop land-grant colleges for black citizens. Later that year, the Georgia General Assembly passed legislation creating the Georgia State Industrial College for Colored Youths, which served as Georgia’s 1890 land-grant institution until 1947. A preliminary session of the Georgia State Industrial College was held in the Baxter Street School Building in Athens, Ga., before moving to Savannah in October 1891. Richard R. Wright, Sr., was appointed the first president of the institution in 1891, which opened with five faculty members and eight students.
The college awarded its first degree in 1898 to Richard R. Wright, Jr., the son of the founding president and became the ninth president of Wilberforce University. Cyrus G. Wiley of the class of 1902 was the first alumnus to become college president in 1921, the same year the first female students were admitted as residents on campus. In 1928, the college became a four-year, degree-granting institution, ending its high school and normal school programs.
Upon the creation of the University System of Georgia (USG) in 1932, the college became one of the first members of the system and its name was changed to Georgia State College. Its name changed again in 1950 to Savannah State College, and the institution received initial accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) in 1955. The USG Board of Regents elevated the college to university status in 1996 and renamed the institution Savannah State University.
Savannah State established the city’s first master’s degree program in elementary education in 1968, and became the first institution in Savannah to receive accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) from 1971-81. The teacher education program was transferred from SSU in 1979 as part of a federally mandated USG desegregation plan. In 2013, the SSU School of Teacher Education was reestablished at SSU with emphasis on preparation of middle and high school teachers in STEM disciplines.
Located on a salt water estuary, SSU offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in marine sciences — an innovative program launched in 1979. The marine sciences program is nationally recognized as a top producer of degrees and an important resource for the coastal area.
Savannah State was the first institution of higher education in Georgia to offer a bachelor’s degree in homeland security and emergency management and the second in the state to offer a bachelor’s degree in forensic science.
Savannah State continues to engage in groundbreaking research. SSU sent cutting-edge genetic material from campus laboratories to the International Spaces Station (ISS) in 2014. Savannah State also earned two patents in 2016. One allows for the collection and harvest of organic material necessary for long-distance space travel. The other is a new chemical that has implications for treating Alzheimer’s, ALS and dementia.
SSU expanded its facilities with two new science and technology buildings. The university purchased property on Livingston Avenue for a new 17,000 square foot marine sciences laboratory and deep water dock. On the main campus, a new two-story, 30,000 square foot building houses engineering technology and chemistry laboratories.
Under the leadership of its 13th president, Cheryl Davenport Dozier, DSW, since May 2011, the university has embarked upon a new era — building upon the rich legacy of academic excellence and community engagement that has defined it for the last 129 years.