Dr. William J. Simmons

Dr. William J. Simmons (1849-1890) was born into slavery in Charleston, South Carolina to Edward and Esther Simmons. When he was a child, he and his mother escaped to Bordentown, NJ. Simmons served briefly for the Union Army near the end of the Civil War. In 1873, Simmons graduated from Howard University and he went on to teach in Washington, DC and Florida. In 1879, Simmons became a preacher at the First Baptist Church in Lexington. One year later, at the age of 31, he became the second president of Kentucky Normal and Theological Institute (later named Simmons College in his honor). Simmons is known as an African American rights and education activist. He and his wife Josephine Silence had seven children. Image from “The History of the Negro Church.”