Rufus B. Atwood

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Dr. Rufus Ballard "R.B." Atwood (March 15, 1897-March 18, 1983) served as the president of Kentucky State College from 1929-1962. As president, he worked closely with the Kentucky Negro Education Association, the Conference of Presidents of Negro Land-Grant Colleges and the Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools for Negroes. He was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha.

Life and Education

Rufus Ballard Atwood

Rufus Atwood was born on March 15, 1897 in Hickman, KY. He enlisted in the army on February 3, 1918. He attended the newly established training camp for black officers in Des Moines, Iowa. On November 10, 1918, the building that housed the switchboard of the 325th Field Signal Battalion (where he served as a member of the B company) was struck by enemy shellfire and the battalion’s lines of communication were severed. Under heavy shell fire, Atwood helped to reconstruct the switchboard and connect new lines. When two additional explosions destroyed the lines that he just fixed, Atwood was left alone to single-handedly repair them again as well as establish a new switchboard. He received a citation and was awarded a Bronze Star for his heroics.

He received a B.S. in Biological Science in 1920 from Fisk University. He married Mabel Campbell on June 28, 1921. In 1923, he graduated from Iowa State College with a B.S. in Agricultural Education. His later education includes a Master's degree from University of Chicago, and LL.D. from Lane College and a D.Ed. from Monrovia College in Western Africa.

Alpha Phi Alpha

In the summer of 1923, Atwood accepted a position at Kansas Vocational College as a professor of agriculture. After the summer session, he left Kansas Vocational College to become the director of the agricultural department at Prairie View State Normal & Industrial College with a salary of $2,400. In the spring 1929, Rufus and Mabel accepted teaching positions at Virginia State College. Mabel went ahead to start her position while Rufus finished out the school year. During this transitional period, a representative from Kentucky State Industrial College for Colored Persons approached him to ask if he was interested in being president of their institution. Rufus Atwood assumed the presidency on July 1, 1929.

Rufus B. Atwood died on March 18, 1983 in Frankfurt, Kentucky.

Presidency at Kentucky State

Rufus Atwood served Kentucky State for 33 years. He is the 9th longest serving president in Kentucky State history. His presidency was controversial because he was not as openly supportive of racial progress as the community wanted him to be.

Atwood was the first black person to receive the University of Kentucky’s Sullivan Medallion for devoting a lifetime to educating young people and for his work in advancing interracial relations. He led the battle for desegregated education in Kentucky beginning in the 1940s by improving educational opportunities for African-Americans and bringing full accreditation to Kentucky State College as president.