KNOXVILLE, TN — Professor Emeritus Robert “Bob” Kirk, the first Black professor to join the University of Tennessee at Knoxville’s full-time faculty, has passed away at the age of 92.
A native of Murfreesboro, Dr. Kirk developed a deep passion for education early, earning his bachelor’s degree in health and physical education from Fisk University in 1953, Knox News reports. Kirk went on to serve in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, eventually earning his doctorate from Indiana University in 1960 and starting his professional career as an educator during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
In 1967, Kirk joined the University of Tennessee Knoxville’s faculty as an associate professor. Just two years later, he made history as the University’s first full-time Black professor. He would go on to make history again as the first Black professor to earn tenure and the first to head a department, serving at UT Knoxville for 36 years before his retirement in 2003.
An esteemed professor on campus and a beloved entrepreneur in the community, Kirk was loved by everyone. One of his businesses was affectionately known as “Kirk’s Market” and became a staple in the city. He also owned the Magnolia Cafe and Kirk’s Restaurant and Hilltop Garden and Nursery.