Frederick Douglass Patterson Biography

Frederick Douglass Patterson, a visionary, became president of what is now Tuskegee University and founder of the United Negro College Fund.

Frederick Douglass Patterson, orphaned at the age of 2 when both his parents contracted tuberculosis, was voted least likely to succeed by his eighth-grade class. Thank goodness Bessie Patterson had a different opinion of her brother. In fact, she believed in him so much that she paid $8 a month from her $20-a-month salary for him to attend what is now Prairie View A&M University.

“In 1944, in an effort to help private Black colleges become financially sound, Patterson conceived and founded the United Negro College Fund.”

There, he flourished and developed such a strong passion for education that he went on to earn three advanced degrees in nine years, eventually returning to head the agriculture department at what is now Tuskegee University, where he had earlier spent a short time teaching. Under his leadership, the department’s veterinary program reached such outstanding quality that the state of Alabama granted funds for white students to study veterinary science there, a unique occurrence in the segregated South. In 1935, at the age of 33, Patterson became Tuskegee’s third president, helping to transform the baccalaureate institution into a prestigious university with cutting-edge graduate programs, all of which are flourishing today.

In 1944, in an effort to help private Black colleges become financially sound, he conceived and founded the United Negro College Fund, the first cooperative fundraising venture in American higher education. Today, UNCF is the nation’s largest and most effective minority education organization, awarding more than $100 million a year in scholarships to more than 10,000 students at more than 1,100 schools across the country.

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