Historically black colleges and universities have made educating black students in America their top priority since 1837. Tennessee is home to several historical black colleges, with Tennessee State University being the largest and most popular of the six schools. The first historically black university in Tennessee, Fisk University, opened its doors in 1866 and has since paved the way for other institutions to follow.

Knoxville College

Knoxville College was founded in 1875 by the Board of Freedmen’s Mission of the United Presbyterian Church to serve as a college preparatory school for Knoxville's freed slaves. The institution offers two degrees: a bachelor of science in liberal studies and an associate of arts degree. As of February 2011, Knoxville College is practicing strategic initiatives to gain back accreditation that was withdrawn by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools because of financial issues in 1997.

Fisk University

Located in Nashville, Fisk University is a private university found in 1866 by the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Initially known as Fisk Free Colored School, it started out focusing on the educational needs of freedmen. According to a recent National Science Foundation study, Fisk alumni hold more doctorate degrees in natural sciences than blacks from any other college in America. Fisk is widely considered a leading historical black university and is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award degrees in several concentrations, including bachelor of science and master of arts.

Tennessee State University

Situated in the city of Nashville, Tennessee State University is the only state-funded historically black college in the state. Founded in 1909 as an agricultural and industrial school, the school gained university status in 1951. The relatively large 500-acre university has several noteworthy internal schools including its College of Nursing and College of Business and has gained popularity due to the performance of its athletics teams.

Meharry Medical College

Nashville's Meharry Medical College was originally established in 1876 to operate as the Medical Department of Central Tennessee College. Since 1915, the school has stood on its own as a historically black medical college that includes dental, medical, allied health and graduate schools. Meharry is affiliated with the United Methodist Church.

Lane College

Lane College is a small, private historically black institution located in the city of Jackson. It was founded in 1882 by the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, established to provide freed slaves with a high school level education. Lane College offers bachelor’s degrees in several academic concentrations, including business, liberal studies, education and natural sciences. While providing students with an education, the college has also sustained its ties with the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, and aims to develop the “whole student” on spiritual, social and ethical levels.

Lemoyne-Owen College

Lemoyne-Owen College, located in Memphis, was founded in 1862 and began educating freed slaves like many other early black colleges. Beginning with approximately 300 students in 1871, it has maintained its historical roots and enrolled nearly 3,500 students in the fall of 2008, recording a 78 percent graduation rate. The private institution has religious affiliations with the United Church of Christ and aims to help preserve African-American culture.