In 1882 Lane College, then the “C.M.E. High School,” was founded by the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (now Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, CME) in America. Initially Bishop William Henry Miles, the first bishop of the CME Church, presided over the Tennessee Annual Conference at which Reverend J. K. Daniels presented a resolution to establish a school to educate African American students and to develop CME clergy. The Conference appointed a committee made up of Reverends C. H. Lee, J. H. Ridley, Sandy Rivers, and J. K. Daniels to solicit funds to purchase the land. On January 1, 1880, the church purchased four acres of land in East Jackson.
The school opened in November 1882 as the C.M.E. High School, and Jennie E. Lane, daughter of the founder, Bishop Isaac Lane, served as the first teacher and principal. In January 1883 J. H. Harper of Jackson took over the work and finished the unexpired term of Jennie Lane. The following September, Reverend Charles H. Phillips succeeded Harper. During the Phillips administration, the school was chartered, and the name was changed to Lane Institute.
In 1887 T. J. Austin presided over Lane Institute's first graduating class. That same year, Reverend T. F. Saunders, a former white slave owner and a member of the Memphis Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, was appointed the first president of Lane Institute. In 1896 the college department was organized, and the Board of Trustees voted to change the name to Lane College.
In 1903 Reverend James Albert Bray was elected president, a position he held until 1907. During his administration, the present Administration Building was erected. Dr. James Franklin Lane, the son of the founder, succeeded Bray and served as president for thirty-seven years. During his administration, the college improved its educational facilities, expanded its curriculum, and enlarged its physical plant.
In 1936 the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) approved Lane College and gave it a “B” rating. The rating was upgraded to “A” in 1949, and Lane College was admitted into full membership in SACS in 1961.
When Lane died in 1944, Reverend P. Randolph Shy briefly served as acting president until the election of Dr. D. S. Yarbrough to the presidency in 1945. Yarbrough served until 1948, when J. H. White succeeded to the position. Upon the resignation of White in 1950, Dr. Richard H. Sewell, the Dean of Instruction, was elected acting president. He served until Reverend Chester Arthur Kirkendoll was elected in July 1950. Kirkendoll served for the next twenty years, during which time the college received accreditation by SACS and six modern buildings were added to the campus.
Dr. Herman Stone Jr., who served as the dean of the college for ten years, was elected president in 1970. During his presidency, the college's accreditation was reaffirmed twice, and the J. F. Lane Health and Physical Education building was added to the campus. Stone retired in 1986 and was succeeded by Dr. Alex A. Chambers. During his administration, the college received a grant to refurbish several historic buildings which had been listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Following the death of Chambers in 1992, the Board of Trustees named Dr. Arthur L. David, Dean of the College, as the interim president.
In August 1992 Dr. Wesley Cornelious McClure was elected the ninth president of Lane College. McClure completed the construction of a multimillion-dollar communications center and library and supervised the general upgrading and improvement of the campus appearance. More than a century after its founding, Lane College continues to serve as a source of inspiration and a symbol of Christian education.