Founded in 1871, this university is the oldest public historically Black land-grant institution in the United States. The site was originally Oakland College, a Presbyterian school established in 1828 on 225 acres. The campus, in Claiborne County, is about twenty miles south of the nearest urban area, Fayette, which has a population of 2,200. The university is located within a largely forested area east of the Mississippi River and Louisiana border.
In 1878 Alcorn University became Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College, exclusively for males, until a dormitory for women was built in 1902. In 1974 Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College was renamed Alcorn State University. The campus has grown to 1,700 acres and the facilities increased from three original buildings to more than 80 structures. The student body has increased from 179 students to more than 4,000.
When the Olmsted Brothers firm took on the project in the 1950s, there was already a large central green space with pedestrian walkways, surrounded by a tree-lined curvilinear main road. Secondary roads radiate from this thoroughfare in a pinwheel design. The firm was asked to lay out additional circulation routes associated with planned building sites, and to prepare the associated grading plans. Olmsted Associates (Erno J. Fonagy) remained involved in campus expansion projects through 1972. Features that were part of the 1960s-era campus plan—the lake at the entrance road, the curvilinear main road—as well as the proposed new roads and the athletic facilities have not been dramatically altered. Since the 1970s, the campus has expanded east of those features.