The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) was founded in 1875 as Branch Normal College by Joseph Carter Corbin. Corbin was the oldest of twelve children born to William and Susan Corbin, freed slaves. Corbin had a classical education and went on to become a teacher in Kentucky. He then attended Ohio University at Athens and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in art in 1853 and a master’s degree in art in 1856.
Corbin worked as a journalist in the 1860s, including during the Civil War, as an editor and publisher of The Colored Citizen in Cincinnati. From there, he went on to become a reporter for the Arkansas Daily Republican and was the Little Rock Post Office chief clerk. He was elected as the first African American superintendent of public education in Arkansas and served in this capacity from 1873 to 1875, during reconstruction of the South. As the state superintendent he urged the legislature to approve the creation of Branch Normal College.
In 1875, at the request of the governor, Corbin worked to build, literally from the ground up, Branch Normal College. He was the only teacher and principal there, teaching mathematics and languages, and he was able to speak and read Greek, Latin, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Hebrew and Danish. He also taught students to play piano, organ and flute.
He moved with his wife to the south side of Chicago on August 3, 1909 and purchased a funeral plot at Forest Home Cemetery for $125. His death in 1911 is recorded in Pine Bluff, but his internment was a mystery for many years.
Gladys Turner, a social worker and graduate of UAPB, took it upon herself to research and find where “The Father of Higher Education for African-American in Arkansas” Corbin’s final resting place was. It is here, in Forest Home Cemetery, that Corbin rests with his wife and daughters.