Zion College, later known as Chattanooga City College, was founded in the white Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga in 1947 as a Bible institute for training African American ministers and church workers. There was no black college close to Chattanooga, although Morristown Junior College, Swift Memorial College in Rogersville, and Knoxville College were located to the east. Tennessee A & I State University in Nashville was two hours by car to the west. Chattanooga schools increased the number of black high school graduates from 273 in 1950 to about 528 some ten years later, and blacks made up about 40 percent of the public schools’ population. Thus, to serve the black community at a time when Jim Crow remained entrenched in higher education, the Zion Baptist Institute was officially opened in November 1948 by Lee Robertson and other ministers.
The institute was named Zion College and chartered in 1949, with about seventeen students enrolled. Zion participated in dual degree programs with Tennessee Temple College. Zion graduated its first student, Horace Traylor, a graduate of Howard High School, in 1953. According to the Chattanooga Times (August 30, 1959), he was “the first member of his race ever to receive a college diploma in Chattanooga.” Traylor then completed his bachelor’s degree at Gammon Theological Seminary in nearby Atlanta. With the announcement of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision (1954), the founder reportedly abandoned the Zion College concept, but others continued its operations. Zion College became a four-year school in 1957, offering B.A. and B.S. degrees in English, history, secretarial science, business administration, and Christian education. The institution was not able to achieve accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), and Zion College, with just three buildings, downgraded to junior-college status in 1958.
Horace Traylor became the first black president in 1959 and was able to solicit the support of leaders in the city’s black and white communities to continue Zion College. Traylor described Zion’s mission as “dedicated to producing men and women of strong faith, right convictions and courage . . . Men and women with poise and vision who will be living witnesses of the gospel in their various occupations” (Chattanooga Times, August 8, 1959). The faculty of about twelve included graduates of Gammon Theological Seminary, Boston University, Tennessee A & I State University, Columbia University, Clark College, and Atlanta University. “Chattanooga’s only Negro college is looking toward the time when it will be able to move from its present location on East 9th Street to a new plant planned near Howard School [the Negro high school],” reported the Chattanooga Times on August 30, 1959. The main building burned in January 1962, and classes convened in local churches until a new building was secured. Local whites helped collect hundreds of books to replace the losses of the library.
Some faculty members at the private University of Chattanooga taught part-time at Zion College. The University of Chattanooga was allied with the city’s elite-class leadership and was able to help Zion College, its successor, and President Traylor connect with that class of supporters, including wealthy individuals associated with the Coca Cola Company and the Brock Candy Company.
The name of Zion College was changed to Chattanooga City College (CCC) in July 1964. The junior college had some 100 students on December 12, 1965, when the dedication took place. With SACS affiliation, Chattanooga City College gained access to National Defense Student Loans, Educational Opportunity Grants, and the federal College Work Study Program. Enrollment grew to 166 students and soon doubled in two years. Plans were made for new dormitories, a new library, and a science building. CCC received Title III federal funds to install a program for at-risk students and grew to 340 students and 30 faculty members.
However, by 1967 there was talk of the University of Tennessee opening a branch campus in Chattanooga, and officials at the University of Chattanooga saw the key to their institution’s survival as a merger with the new UT campus. Realizing that the UT initiative also threatened the future of Chattanooga City College, black leaders and the CCC administration decided that it was best to become a part of the merger. President Traylor and others persuaded the governor and the state education agencies to agree to this arrangement. On July 1, 1969, the University of Chattanooga became part of the new University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, with Chattanooga City College, which graduated its last class that June with some twenty-four associate degree recipients, joining in the merger. President Horace Traylor was named a special assistant to the UTC chancellor but later ended his brilliant administrative career at Miami-Dade Community College in Florida.