My dissertation research on historically Black college and university (HBCU) architecture often leads me to places I did not expect. It often leads me to defunct HBCUs, and one of these schools is the University of West Tennessee. I first discovered this school several years ago while reading GP Hamilton’s The Bright Side of Memphis book. This book featured a quick history of the school and its founder Miles V. Lynk. This past spring while researching the UWT I quickly discovered how intertwined the school and its founder actually were. You see in many ways Miles V. Lynk was the school and he also happened to be a native of Haywood County, TN.
Lynk had quite the exciting life as detailed in his autobiography, Sixty Years of Medicine; Or, The Life and Times of Dr. Miles V. Lynk, an Autobiography.
A few quick facts about Lynk,
He was born in Haywood County, TN on June 3, 1871, to formerly enslaved parents
He received his certificate to teach school in Haywood County at the age of 13.
At the age of 17, he enrolled at Meharry Medical College.
He was named after two CME Church bishops, William Henry Miles and Richard H. Vandahurst
He published the first medical journal for African American physicians known as The Medical and Surgical Observer
In 1900 he founded the University of West Tennessee in Jackson, TN and later relocated the school to Memphis in 1907.
The State of Tennessee honored him and the University of West Tennessee with a historical marker in 1996 in Memphis at McLemore and Krayer Streets.
His autobiography details his life growing up on a farm outside of Brownsville, TN. In the text, he describes the death of his father and his quest to find employment as a school teacher before enrolling at Meharry Medical College. Because he was looking for employment in Fayette County, Tennessee, Lynk soon discovered that his teaching certificate would only be accepted if he could find a white man to refer him. Of this experience, Lynk stated, “That struck me like a bombshell as I had never been in the employ of a white man; in fact, my abhorrence for slavery was so great that I would never hire to one for money” (24). One of the men that Lynk reached out to for a reference happened to be the man who enslaved his father who then refused to give him a reference. Lynk described how this encounter influenced him and how he prayed to the Lord that he’d never have to do anything like it again.
By 1908 when the University of West Tennessee relocated to Memphis and was featured in GP Hamilton’s The Bright Side of Memphis Hamilton described the school as “two commodious and well-arranged buildings known as North and South Hall respectively… The grounds and buildings are valued at $15,000” (258). However, according to reports the school struggled and found itself described as “without merit” and “ineffectual” according to a report known as the Flexner Report written in 1910 which provided detailed accounts of medical schools.
Despite this, the UWT graduated about 155 students before closing in 1924. After living a very accomplished life, Lynk passed away in Memphis on December 29, 1956, at age of eighty-six.
Google Map showing the University of West Tennessee Historical Marker at the corner of McLemore and Krayer Streets
Hamilton, Green Polonius. The Bright Side of Memphis: A Compendium of Information Concerning the Colored People of Memphis, Tennessee, Showing Their Achievements in Business, Industrial and Professional Life and Including Articles of General Interest on the Race. Memphis, Tennessee, 1908.
Lynk, Miles V. Sixty Years of Medicine;: Or, The Life and Times of Dr. Miles V. Lynk, an Autobiography. Twentieth Century Press, 1951.