Born amid the religious and racial turmoil of Southern Reconstruction, Paine College's interracial cooperation has fueled the school's success, historians and school officials say.
Founded in 1882, the historically black school held its first classes two years later in rented space at 10th and Broad streets. The school was founded as a joint effort by the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in America (now Christian Methodist Episcopal) and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (now United Methodist).
Originally Paine Institute, the school was named for Bishop Robert Paine of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.
In its early years, it primarily trained elementary- and secondary-level black students for the ministry and education.
The Rev. Lucius H. Holsey, a CME leader in Georgia, suggested the school settle in Augusta because the town was centrally located and accessible to a majority of CME members.
In 1886, the college moved to a farmhouse at its current 15th Street location, dubbed at the time as the Woodlawn area of Augusta.
It was in the country back then. Farms, barns and plow mules dotted the surrounding landscape. The Rev. George Williams Walker, D.D., was the school's first president.
In 1903, Paine Institute became Paine College. A curriculum debate raged in black schools at the time. Many took the lead of Booker T. Washington and his technical school training curriculum, but Paine stuck to its liberal arts tradition.
"That debate impacted many black colleges," said Dr. Leslie J. Pollard, a 1965 Paine graduate and the school's Callaway Professor of History.
During the racially polarized Jim Crow days, the campus was often the only place where black and white Augustans could congregate together as equals, said Augusta historian Phil Waring, who attended the school in 1936.
The racial climate of Paine was eased, in part, because whites always have been a part of the faculty. The campus held lectures and conferences on race and blacks and whites congregated for services and meals.
In 1920, the school had 20 college students. The next year, President Albert D. Betts committed to make it "almost wholly an institution of higher learning."
Paine discontinued its elementary classes soon after, but continued with secondary education until the early 1940s, shortly after Augusta opened its first black public schools in almost a half-century.
Some of Paine's prominent alumni include best-selling novelist Frank Yerby; Dr. Channing H. Tobias, an adviser to Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and a representative to the United Nations; and Charles Gomillion, an educator, sociologist and civil rights activist.
In addition, the school has trained many of Augusta's black leaders and educators and has been a cultural center for the city's black community.
During the civil rights movement and sit-ins of the 1960s, Paine students participated in the protests. Student Sylvia Ryce was arrested during protests that helped desegregate Augusta bus seating, Mr. Waring said.
The small liberal arts college underwent a crisis when a mysterious 1968 fire gutted Haygood Hall, which housed the school's administrative building, classrooms and meeting space. It destroyed a treasured, rare collection of African artifacts.
The fire also damaged campus morale, said Ann Johnson, a member of the class of 1971.
Ike Washington, a member of the class of 1937, remembers getting a telephone call at 2 a.m. that the building was on fire. Much of the school's memorabilia and old classrooms were destroyed, he said.
"I went to see it," Mr. Washington said. "As I saw the building burn, I saw a part of me burning with that building."
The student body, about 500 at the time, adapted by holding classes in other campus buildings, Ms. Johnson said.
Relations between the Paine campus and the white community were somewhat strained in the wake of student protests and tensions of the civil rights struggle, Mr. Waring said. Funds were tight. The school had come on hard times.
President L.H. Pitts started the administrative building's recovery when he took office in 1972. The school's ninth president, Dr. Pitts was its first black president. He was also a member of the class of 1941.
Dr. Pitts died in 1974. Julius Scott took over that year in what would be the first of his two tenures as president.
Dr. Scott helped strengthen and rebuild the bridge between Paine and Augusta's white community. He led a five-fold increase in alumni contributions.
"(Dr. Scott) had to build up the school," Mr. Waring said. "He rebuilt the school. He made it look like a college and act like a college. He did a magnificent job."
The black and white communities in Augusta rallied in a fund-raising drive to rebuild the administration building, which opened in 1978 as the Haygood-Holsey building.
The rebuilt administrative building was the heart of the 842-student campus when Dr. Scott left the school in 1982 for another job. In 1988, with enrollment dwindling to 500, Dr. Scott was asked to return for a second stint as president.
Dr. Scott became the first black chairman for the board of directors of Metro Augusta Chamber of Commerce in 1993. In 1994, he retired from Paine with enrollment surpassing 700 and academic averages increased for entering freshman.
When Shirley Lewis succeeded Dr. Scott, it was another first in the school's history. Dr. Lewis is the first woman to lead Paine.