Historical Marker #773 in Madison County notes the location of Berea College, a school founded in 1855 by abolitionist John G. Fee.
In 1853, Kentucky emancipationist Cassius Marcellus Clay invited minister and abolitionist John G. Fee to Madison County to establish an antislavery community. Fee arrived in 1854, and, with the help of other anti-slavery advocates, established a village. He named the settlement Berea, a biblical name, for a place where the people "received the word with all readiness of mind and searched the scriptures daily."
Fee eventually established a one-room school that taught both boys and girls. The school also taught blacks and whites of all classes and religious denominations. Oberlin College graduate and school principal John A. R. Rogers and his wife, Elizabeth, a teacher, arrived in the late 1850s. Fee and Rogers wrote a school constitution in 1859 to create an institution of higher education, but both were exiled from Kentucky by pro-slavery proponents in the wake of John Brown’s Harpers Ferry raid.
After the Civil War, Fee and Rogers returned to Berea and established the Berea Literary Institute, which became Berea College. The school quickly became known for its mission as a coeducational, non-sectarian, racially-integrated college, which was virtually unheard of in the nineteenth-century South.
In 1904, Kentucky passed the Day Law, named for its sponsor, Carl Day. This law outlawed racially-integrated higher education in the state’s schools, whether public or private. Berea College sued, and the case made it the Supreme Court in 1908. Although Kentuckian John Marshall Harlan was the lone dissenter, the segregationist ruling was upheld. As a result, the Lincoln Institute in Shelby County was established to serve Berea’s displaced African American students.
After the Day Law passed, Berea readjusted its mission and instead focused on providing an affordable education to white students in the southern Appalachian Mountain region. The Day Law remained in effect in Kentucky until 1950, when Berea was allowed to reopen its doors to African-American students.