Frank Loris Peterson

1893 - 1969 

Frank L. Peterson, first black graduate from Pacific Union College, was hired as the first full-time black teacher at Oakwood Junior College, now Oakwood University, in 1917. He became the first known head of the OU music department in 1919, a program that included offerings in choir, band, orchestra, and instruments, plus a theory class. The position was only one of several that he would fill, including serving as dean of men, English and history teacher, and president of the college.

Frank was born in Pensacola, Florida, the youngest of seven children of Frank and Lizzie Peterson. Although raised a Methodist and educated in private Methodist schools, at age fourteen he became a Seventh-day Adventist. He graduated from Pacific Union College in 1916 and then assisted P.G. Rogers, an evangelist in Baltimore, Maryland, for a year before being hired to teach at Oakwood Junior College.

Peterson married Bessie Elston in 1922 and they would have five children. In 1925 he took an OJC male quartet he had organized on the first music tours by the college, traveling in the Midwest and South and on the East coast. These proved highly successful, the start of a touring tradition by OU music groups that has contributed significantly to the growth and success of the university.

In 1926 he became assistant Missionary Volunteer, home missionary, and educational secretary in the Southern Union.  Three years later he became pastor of the Berea Church in Boston and a year and a half later secretary of the North American Regional Department. In 1941 he became pastor of the Wadsworth church in Los Angeles, a position he held for four years.

Peterson served as the second black president of OC from 1945-1954. Under his leadership, the faculty and students working together created the largest building expansion program in the school's history. In 1962 he became the first black person to serve as a general vice-president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, a position he held until 1966, when he retired.

He and his wife were living in Los Angeles, California, when he died at age 76.


Sources: F.L. Bland, “Life Sketch of Frank Loris Peterson,” Review and Herald, 4 December 1969, 8; 1946 Acorn, Oakwood College yearbook; Adventist Heritage, Oakwood Edition, March 1996, 12, 28; Dobbins/Carter Family Tree, Ancestory .Com;  “One Hundred Brief Facts about Oakwood College,” Minneola Dixon, 1990s flyer, 2;