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Miles Vandahurst Lynk and the University of West Tennessee

13 Jun

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.

              Miles V. Lynk

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.


Article on the University of West Tennessee in the Memphis, TN newspaper The News Scimitar January 16, 1920

Google Map showing the University of West Tennessee Historical Marker at the corner of McLemore and Krayer Streets





Flexner, Abraham. “Medical Education in the United States and Canada.” New York, New York, 1910.



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.



Newspaper Clippings – The Commercial Appeal Jan 1, 1857

7 Jul
Dr. Robard - The Commercial Appeal Jan 1, 1857

Dr. Robard – The Commercial Appeal Jan 1, 1857


Very interesting article. Of course The Commercial Appeal is a Memphis newspaper, but I wonder if any of our West Tennessee people had the chance to see Dr. Robard and if he in fact was able to “cure” them.

– Tiffany

– Source: The Commercial Appeal Jan 1, 1857 edition

Lost Ripley – Eylau Plantation

25 Apr

Eylau Plantation was the home of Dr. Samuel Oldham and his family. Dr. Oldham relocated to Lauderdale County from Virginia in 1827. Once they arrived Dr. Oldham purchased land from Columbia University (land speculators I suppose?) about 8 miles east of Ripley to build his farm. Eylau was built entirely by his slaves and completed in 1835. Eylau was a show place with fireplaces in each room and the like. It was built for entertaining with the first floor being converted into a ballroom.

Eylau Plantation

Eylau Plantation built by slaves and completed in 1835

Dr. Oldham is said to have treated his slaves kindly and they were provided with comfortable living quarters. Oral history has also stated that some of his former slaves are buried in the cemetery that was on the grounds of Eylau. Details in his will indicate that he did not want his slave families to be separated. He also mentions a few of his slaves in his will. They are as follows,

George Young from the Forest Home Plantation

Peter (a boy)

Jim and Bet (husband and wife)

After his death the slaves on the Eylau Plantation were divided equally between two of his sons. Special provisions were made for Jim and Bet. Dr. Oldham saw to it that they were allowed to stay in the home they currently lived in, that they were provided wood in the winter, and that the family always looked after them.

– Tiffany

– Source and picture: Lauderdale County From its Earliest Times by Kate Johnston Peters

Black Doctors in Lauderdale County, TN

22 Feb

While doing my usual research on the area I came across what is described as a list of “Negro Physicians of the County”. This list is included in the book titled “Lauderdale County in its Earliest Times” by Kate Johnson Peters published in 1957. The Black doctors of the area are listed as follows,








I guess Kate was too busy to find out their first names? If you have been a reader of my blog for awhile then you know that the doctor named Clay in the book is actually S.R. Clay who was born a slave and was a graduate of Meharry Medical College in Nashville. I did a quick search and discovered the following about our Black doctors.

Dickey is the last name of John A. Dickey who is 1930 was married to Alhome (sp?) Dickey and who had a daughter named Gussie Dickey. They made their home on Church Street.

I hope to do more research to find out who the additional doctors were.


– Tiffany

Source:  “Lauderdale County in its Earliest Times” by Kate Johnson Peters

Dr. C.D. Coleman – Jet Magazine Oct 28, 1954

6 Jan
Jet Magazine October 28, 1954

Jet Magazine October 28, 1954

While reviewing old issues of Jet Magazine I came across an entry for Dr. C.D. Coleman. In October of 1954 he was elected as Notary of Lauderdale County, TN. I looked Dr. Coleman up on and discovered that he was born in 1883 in Mississippi. His full name was Charles David Coleman. His mother, Francis, was born into slavery in 1852 in Alabama. Dr. Coleman worked as a physician and owned his own practice. He was married to Gertrude Love Coleman on September 30, 1915 in Lauderdale County, TN. According to information found on Dr. Coleman passed away March 10, 1966. It’s unclear how he ended up in Halls, but I personally am glad he chose Halls and chose to break racial barriers in Lauderdale County by becoming an elected official.


– Tiffany

– Jet Magazine October 28, 1954

SR Clay – Follow Up

23 Oct

A few months ago I wrote about Simeon “S.R” Clay on this blog. From that point on I wondered what had happened to Simeon. As we know he graduated from Meharry in 1899 and moved back to Ripley, TN. I found a US Census entry for him on the 1900 census, but had been unable to locate him on any further censuses.

 Well I found SR Clay and his family. While reviewing old photographs that I had taken of Canfield Cemetery in Ripley I came across a photo of his tombstone. He and his wife Mintie both passed in 1906 according to their tombstone, just six years after they had moved back to Ripley. What happened to them? The State of Tennessee did not require the completion of death certificates until 1908.

 I then began to look for their children. I easily found his daughter Nannie on the 1920 Census. She was listed as living alone in Ripley, TN. She was the head of her household and she owned her home. She also worked as a teacher in the public school. According to the tombstone she passed in 1924. SR Clay’s daughter Elvise died in 1919 according to the tombstone. I have not yet been able to locate any records on her.


– Tiffany

Source: Tombstone Picture – my own 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.

Year: 1920;Census Place: Ripley, Lauderdale, Tennessee; Roll: T625_1751; Page: 16A; Enumeration District: 94; Image: 685.