William Tecumseh Vernon was an educator, minister, and bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He also served as president of Western University beginning in 1896 and Register of the Treasury from 1906 to 1911.
Vernon was born to former slaves in Missouri on July 11, 1871. Most likely Vernon was named after Union general William Tecumseh Sherman, who was a hero during the Civil War.
After completing his studies, Vernon taught school. By the age of twenty-five, he was an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
In 1896, he was appointed the president of Western University, a historically black university near Kansas City. The school welcomed Vernon and his upbeat energy and personality.
Vernon achieved prominence as president of Western University, and in 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him as Register of the Treasury. All US currency printed during his tenure carries the signature of William T. Vernon. He was briefly reappointed by William Howard Taft in 1910, but the president needed the position for his own patronage.
By 1912, Vernon was serving as president of Campbell College in Jackson, Mississippi but left to pastor Avery Chapel in Memphis serving in that role from 1916-1920.
In 1933, after the state began funding Western University, the governor appointed Vernon as head of the industrial department. Vernon appointed a strong faculty and succeeded in getting its accreditation restored before stepping down in 1936.
Vernon was also a published author of two books on race and politics: The Upbuilding of a Race: or The Rise of a Great People, a compilation of sermons, addresses and writings on education, the race question and public affairs (1904) and What the American Negro expects of Worldwide Democracy: A statement of the Negro’s Case and Cause (1919).