Rabbit Holes Redux Redux …

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

(Double apologies to John Updike!) In the first blog of this series we learned about Camp Nelson and the United States Colored Troops that fought in the Civil War, and in the second we explored contraband troops, the American Missionary Association, and the Freedmen’s Bureau. This rabbit hole closes with this blog about Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

One enduring legacy of both the American Missionary Association and the Freedmen’s Bureau was all the schools established, including a number of HBCUs still in operation. There are 107 HBCUs today, not all of which can trace their lineage to the Civil War or Reconstruction, but let’s take a brief peak at a few that can.

Howard University, Washington, D.C.

Founders Library, Howard University
Photo by Derek E. Morton

“Howard has produced the greatest number of graduates with advanced degrees. Originally conceived as a theological school in 1866, Howard University was chartered as a university by an act of the United States Congress in 1867. It is the only HBCU to hold that distinction. Named after Oliver Otis Howard, a Civil War general who became commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau, the institution was from its inception committed to graduate and professional education in sharp contrast to most other black postsecondary institutions of that era. As an example of this, Howard established the first black law school in the nation only two years after its founding.” Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall is among many prominent Howard graduates, as is current Vice-President nominee Kamala Harris.

Fisk University, Nashville, TN

“One of the first U.S. institutions to offer a liberal arts education to former slaves in the post-Civil War South, Fisk opened its doors in Nashville, Tennessee, just nine months after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox. General Clinton B. Fisk of the Tennessee Freedmen’s Bureau donated a former Union Army barracks to the school, and students began attending classes at “Fisk School” in January of 1866. Originally supported by the American Missionary Association, the college officially became Fisk University one year later.” Scholar and activist W.E.B. DuBois and late U.S. Congressman John Lewis are among distinguished Fisk graduates.

Hampton University, Hampton, VA

“Hampton University, located on the shore of Chesapeake Bay in Hampton, Virginia, was founded in 1868 by Samuel Chapman Armstrong, the son of a prominent missionary family that settled in Hawaii in the early 1800s. Armstrong was enrolled at Williams College in Massachusetts when the Civil War began. He volunteered for the Union Army, rose quickly in rank and was given command of an African American military unit. By the end of the Civil War Armstrong had obtained the rank of Brevet General. After the war Armstrong worked with the Freedman’s Bureau and observed the great need for education and vocational skills among the recently freed slaves. With those needs in mind, and supported by the American Missionary Society and a number of philanthropists, he founded Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute. Hampton welcomed African Americans and after 1877, Native Americans. All were trained at Hampton to exhibit good character, teach, work as skilled artisans and provide leadership in their communities.” Hampton’s most famous graduate is Booker T. Washington.

Tougaloo College, Jackson, MS

“The American Missionary Association (AMA) founded Tougaloo in 1869. Early in that year the AMA had commissioned Allen P. Huggins, a former Union officer, to look for land for a normal-agricultural school. He found the former plantation of John Boddie about seven miles north of Jackson, Mississippi and negotiated to buy it from its owner, George McKee, for $10,500. The money for the plantation was provided by the Freedman’s Bureau. In 1871 the Mississippi State Legislature granted the school a charter with the name “Tougaloo University.” In 1892 the state discontinued funding but the Normal Department was recognized as a teacher training school. …Tougaloo had again undergone a name change in 1916 to Tougaloo College. …Nearly 40% of the practicing African American physicians and dentists in the state of Mississippi are Tougaloo graduates, and 35% of all current Mississippi educators are.”

Atlanta University, now Clark Atlanta University, Atlanta, GA

“Clark Atlanta University was formed with the consolidation of Atlanta University and Clark College, both of which hold unique places in the annals of African-American history. Atlanta University, established in 1865 by the American Missionary Association, was the nation’s first institution to award graduate degrees to African-Americans. Clark College, established four years later in 1869, was the nation’s first four-year liberal arts college to serve a primarily African-American student population. Today, with nearly 4,000 students, CAU is the largest of the four institutions (CAU, Morehouse College, Spelman College and Morehouse School of Medicine) that comprise the Atlanta University Center Consortium.” It is one of only two private black colleges to be classified by the Carnegie Foundation as a Research University.

Dillard University, New Orleans, LA

Dillard University
Creative Commons (CC BY 2.5)

“In 1869, with support from the American Missionary Association of the Congregational Church (now the United Church of Christ) and the Freedmen’s Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church (now the United Methodist Church), Straight University and the Union Normal School were founded. They were subsequently renamed Straight College and New Orleans University, respectively. Gilbert Academy, a secondary school, was a unit of New Orleans University. In 1889, New Orleans University opened a medical department, including a school of pharmacy and a school of nursing. The medical department was named Flint Medical College and the affiliated facility was named the Sarah Goodridge Hospital and Nurse Training School. The medical college was discontinued in 1911, but the hospital, including the nursing school, was continued under the name Flint-Goodridge Hospital. Straight College operated a law department from 1874 to 1886. In 1935, New Orleans University and Straight College merged to form Dillard University. The trustees of the new university called for the implementation of a coeducational, interracial school, serving a predominantly African American student body adhering to Christian principles and values. The university was named in honor of James Hardy Dillard, a distinguished academician dedicated to educating African Americans.” Famous Dillard graduates include Dr. Ruth Simmons, the first African American President of an Ivy League institution (Brown University), Ellis Marsalis, Jr., jazz pianist and music educator, and Garrett Morris, comedian.

Talladega College, Talladega, AL

Savery Library, Talladega College
Photo by Rivers Langley (CC BY-SA 3.0)

“Talladega College was founded in 1867, and is Alabama’s oldest private historically black liberal arts college. Located on 50 acres in the city of Talladega, Alabama, the wooded campus sits on a plateau about 700 feet above a valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Talladega College was founded by two former slaves, William Savery and Thomas Tarrant. Savery and Tarrant were committed to the education of the children of former slaves because they regarded it as “…vital to the preservation of our liberties…” After the one-room structure which originally housed the school became too small for the student population, General Wager Swayne of the Freedmen’s Bureau was instrumental in acquiring the nearby Baptist Academy building which was to be sold because of financial difficulties. The school was moved into the former Baptist Academy in 1867. Locating the school there was ironic because it was constructed using slave labor (including Savery and Tarrant), and was originally intended to house white students. For the two years following the move to the new building, the school was named Swayne School by parents of students enrolled there, to honor the assistance of General Swayne in acquiring the property. In 1869, however, Swayne School was issued a charter and became Talladega College.”

Berea College Class of 1901
Image in the public domain

Two colleges that are not specifically HBCU but are worth notice are Berea College and Oberlin College. 

Berea College “was founded in 1855 by abolitionist John G. Fee. Berea was one of the first fully integrated colleges in the South, enrolling an essentially equal number of blacks and whites from 1865 to 1892. Racial coeducation in a slaveholding state was a monumental experiment. However, in 1904, the Day Law, aimed specifically at Berea, outlawed integrated education in Kentucky, thus forcing the College to turn its focus toward educating impoverished white Appalachian students. Berea officials quickly responded to the policy change by using some of its endowment to establish Lincoln Institute in Simpsonville, near Louisville, to educate African Americans. Berea College itself was not re-integrated until the repeal of the Day Law in 1950.”

Mary Jane Patterson, 1840-1894
Image in the public domain

Oberlin College is a private liberal arts college with a rich abolitionist history. “In 1833, Presbyterian ministers John Jay Sipherd and Philo P. Stewart founded the institution as a college preparatory institute to promote Christian values. Oberlin’s progressive history began during the antebellum period. In 1835 it became the first predominantly white collegiate institution to admit African American male students and two years later it opened its doors to all women, becoming the first coeducational college in the country. In 1862, Mary Jane Patterson earned a B.A. degree in education from Oberlin, becoming the first African American woman to earn a degree from an American college. Other black women had graduated earlier but did not receive the collegiate degree (BA). Oberlin continued to be an important institution for African Americans for the next century. By 1900, one third of all black professionals in the U.S. had undergraduate degrees from Oberlin. Oberlin’s commitment to the abolition of slavery made it a welcoming and safe environment for 19th Century black students. As part of the Underground Railroad, Oberlin’s intricate network of back road routes and safe houses, the college and town provided refuge for fugitive slaves bound for Canada. In 1858, students, faculty, and residents of Oberlin and nearby Wellington, Ohio rescued a runaway slave John Price from U.S. marshals, and transported him to freedom in Canada. The incident which became known as the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue, received significant press coverage. One year later three African American residents of the town of Oberlin, Shields Green, Lewis Sheridan Leary, and John Anthony Copeland, participated in John Brown‘s Raid on Harpers Ferry.”

There you have it….my rabbit hole journey in three blogs, from Camp Nelson to USCT to contraband camps to the American Missionary Association and the Freedmen’s Bureau to HBCUs. I can’t wait to see where my next rabbit hole takes me!

Resources Consulted:

Bigham, Darrel E. On Jordan’s banks: emancipation and its aftermath in the Ohio River Valley. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2006. UASC Regional Collection F520.6.N4 B54 2006

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) BlackPast.org

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