A New Era: The Rise of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries

During the early 19th century, the first historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) confronted a dismal reality. As explored in my first post, the three earliest HBCUs suffered from scarce resources and improper curricula.[1] While the overall growth of HBCUs remained stagnant prior to the Civil War, two massive shifts in the development of HBCUs began during the period of the Reconstruction era up to the start of World War II (1865-1945). Foremost, the number of HBCUs expanded rapidly from 1865-1912 due to both private and public funding. Despite the increase in the total number of HBCUs, these schools could not overcome the maladies which defined the antebellum era, poor funding, dismal educational quality, and an under-performing curriculum. Second, HBCUs, from 1923-1945, began to expand and improve their overall standing due to a clear internal push by presidents, trustees, and professors. Ultimately, the history of HBCUs moved from one of stunted growth due to external dependency on public funding and private benefactors to one of expansion due to internal dependency and leadership, marking a clear power shift from the government to the institutions themselves.

Figure 1: Private HBCUs Since the Civil War[2]

Name

Location

Year Founded

Institute for Colored Youth (Cheyney University)

Cheyney, PA

1837

Ashmun Institute (Lincoln University)

Lincoln, PA

1854

Wilberforce University

Wilberforce, OH

1856

Atlanta University

Atlanta, GA

1865

Clark College

Atlanta, GA

1869

Shaw University

Raleigh, NC

1865

Fisk University

Nashville, TN

1866

Lincoln Institute

Jefferson City, MO

1866

Rust College (Shaw University)

Holly Springs, MS

1866

Alabama State University

Montgomery, AL

1867

Barber Memorial College

Concord, NC

1867

Howard School (Fayetteville State University)

Fayetteville, NC

1867

Howard University

Washington, DC

1867

Biddle Memorial Institute (Johnson C. Smith University)

Charlotte, NC

1867

Augusta Institute (Morehouse College)

Atlanta, GA

1867

St. Augustine’s University

Raleigh, NC

1867

Talladega College

Talladega, AL

1867

Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (Hampton University)

Hampton, VA

1868

Claflin University

Orangeburg, SC

1869

Dillard University

New Orleans, LA

1869

Tougaloo University

Hinds, MS

1869

Allen University

Columbia, SC

1870

Benedict Institute (Benedict College)

Columbia, SC

1870

Wiley College

Marshall, TX

1873

Bennett College

Greensboro, NC

1873

Knoxville College

Knoxville, TN

1875

Tuskeegee University

Tuskegee, AL

1881

 

Figure 2: List of Land Grant HBCUs Since the Civil War[3]

Name

Location

Year Founded

Type

Year Received Funding Under Morrill Act of 1862

Year Received Funding Under Morrill Act of 1890

Alabama A&M University

Normal, AL

1875

Public

1891

Alcorn State University

Lorman, MS

1871

Public

1871

1892

Delaware State College

Dover, DE

1891

Public

1891

Florida A&M University

Tallahassee, FL

1887

Public

1891

Fort Valley State College

Fort Valley, GA

1895

Public

1890

Kentucky State University

Frankfort, KY

1886

Public

1897

1893

Langston University

Langston, OK

1897

Public

1890

Lincoln University

Jefferson City, MO

1866

Public

1891

North Carolina A&T State University

Greensboro, NC

1891

Public

1891

Prairie View A&M University

Prairie View, TX

1876

Public

1891

South Carolina State College

Orangeburg, SC

1896

Public

1872

1890

Southern University and A&M College

Baton Rouge, LA

1880

Public

1893

Tennessee State University

Nashville, TN

1912

Public

1891

University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff

Pine Bluff, AR

1873

Public

1891

University of Maryland – Eastern Shore

Princess Anne, MD

1886

Public

1892

Virginia State University

Petersburg, VA

1882

Public

1872

1890

West Virginia State College

Institute, WV

1891

Public

1891

After the Civil War, two types of HBCUs came into existence – private, those which philanthropists founded, and public, those which the federal government funded. Most HBCUs educated the freed slaves in the South and trained southern teachers.[4] African American churches and white charities, like the American Baptist Churches USA, United Methodist Church, and the American Missionary Association, both founded and funded these private schools.[5] W.E.B. DuBois claimed that these benefactors started the “movement that saved the Negro public school system.”[6]  Public funding, through Reconstruction organizations, like the Freedmen’s Bureau, and federal legislation, financed the rest of these schools.[7] While the Morrill Land Act of 1862 funded land-grant colleges which would promote agriculture and mechanical arts, the Morrill Land Act of 1890 “mandated dual segregated higher education systems for white and African students to provide at least one land-grant college for African American students” with equal funding as white colleges.[8] While the law didn’t force the creation of HBCUs, it gave funding to states where African Americans didn’t receive land-grant education. But because Jim Crow ruled the South, almost every Southern state needed to build a “black” school.[9] Thus, these new conditions shaped the climate for HBCUs after the Civil War.

Figure 3: Photo of Meharry Medical College’s 1924 Graduating Class (from Ward’s Black Physicians in the Jim Crow South)

AW Post 2 Figure 3

Foremost, HBCUs expanded during this era. While 34 public land-grant schools developed, “over 200 private black institutions were founded in the south.”[10] These schools also expanded in scope. Most HBCUs began as single colleges or universities solely focused on undergraduates and ignored the possibility of graduate education, likely due to the cost and lack of utility for African American students. During this era, medical schools emerged to train African American doctors, the first at Howard University in 1868 and later at Straight University in 1869 and New Orleans University in 1878.[11] Thus, the size and number of these schools grew at an unprecedented rate during this era due to the aforementioned funding.

Though these new schools emerged, they could not address the preexisting problems in HBCUs. Some scholars deemed the passage of the Morrill Act as a turning point in this history of HBCUs, fostering a “significant educational movement” of land-grant schools.[12] Despite the requirements of the 1890 Act and the Fourteenth Amendment, facilities and funding remained unequal between black and white schools.[13] The “Negro Department” at Knoxville College, affiliated with University of Tennessee, received only 5.2% of the land-grant money.[14] At South Carolina State, teachers held classes in 8 small buildings on only 135 acres.[15] Because these campuses had few buildings, the net worth of all land-grant HBCU property by 1915 equaled only $2.5 million.[16] Moreover, the curriculum remained ill prepared to train African American students for jobs. HBCUs did not grant degrees in this period and taught “religious education and manual trades” as well as social skills, like speech, etiquette, and dress.[17] These schools also didn’t teach “Negro” culture but instead taught African Americans about European cultures.[18] Moreover, the Southern land-grant and private schools could not escape the Jim Crow mentality of the South. Segregation defined the experience of African American students especially in mixed-race public universities.[19] At Oberlin, both literary societies and dining halls remained segregated.[20] Ultimately, African American students maintained difficulty in overcoming institutional racism and achieving social mobility. These conclusions complicate the existing positive consensus regarding the Morrill Land Acts by noting that though the new schools assuredly offered more educational opportunities for African Americans, they still could not endow an equitable education to their students.

Figure 4: First Class of Central University in Ohio

 AW Post 2 Figure 4

Despite this initial trend, the institutions themselves took control of their futures. At the end of the nineteenth century, HBCU presidents “knew how to respect Jim Crow, and white supremacy standards did not allow Negroes a class structure or any variations of social privilege.”[21] However, at the turn of the century, HBCU presidents, trustees, and faculties began to improve their institutions. Foremost, they changed the curriculum to promote black scholarship. In the 1930s, some HBCUs started journals to consolidate and promote the scholarship of faculty members, epitomized by Howard’s Journal of Negro Education.[22] These schools also held scholarly conferences and eventually formed collegiate associations to address self-improvement. In 1934, the Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools for Negroes formed. In 1939, the organization asked federal agencies to finance a study to see how HBCUs could improve.[23] The Association of Negro Land-Grant Colleges formed in 1923 to “discover and pursue problems common to the Negro land-grant colleges.”[24] It then called for increased funding and for the schools to address “curriculum problems, instructional improvement and supervisory programs.”[25] Thus, as World War II approached, the power structure within HBCUs shifted from the federal government to the institutions themselves.

Figure 5: 1929 Conference of Presidents of Negro Land-Grant Colleges

 AW Post 2 Figure 5

Figure 6: Photo of Presidents of Land-Grant Colleges in 1922

AW Post 2 Figure 6

Though my conclusions and thesis do reveal clear trends in this era, my research did yield a few questions which remain unanswered and the subject for future inquiry. Foremost, why did some of the HBCUs close at the end of the nineteenth century? Second, why did presidents, trustees, and professors take the charge to improve their institutions after World War I. For the first question, I would posit that it was due to underfunding and a lack of support. For the second, I would posit that the peace-building mentality of the inter-war period and general sense of stability provided a suitable climate for internal, institutional reform. Moreover, the removal of academics from the center of public attention and policymaking gave academics the time to influence internal affairs. However, these are just educated guesses and further research into this subject matter would yield stronger conclusions.

Ultimately, this period illustrates a clear shift in the development of HBCUs. At the end of this period, 33 publicly controlled and 52 privately controlled four-year HBCUs existed in the US.[26] These schools saw a clear rise in their net worth compared to the end of the nineteenth century: $15 million in income, $56 million in plants and grounds, and $8 million in equipment.[27] Before the Second World War, HBCUs remained in a prime position to break out of the institutional rut they suffered from since the early nineteenth century. Despite early institutional failure, HBCUs started addressing educational concerns and began serving African Americans through proper curricula and heightened institutional well-being upon organizing. Overall, a clear rise in quality emerged during this era as well as a clear shift in center of power. HBCUs no longer submitted to the whims of federal and state governments and fought back to dictate their own methods of improvement and instruction. Undoubtedly, the history of HBCUs will once again change drastically in the 1960s following the Civil Rights Movement. Nonetheless, the growth and improvement of HBCUs during this period mark a clear upwards trajectory in the history of HBCUs.

Footnotes

[1] This occupational malaise was also the product of a hostile white population towards African Americans attaining well-paying, socially mobile jobs. See in Andrew Wright, “Setting a Precedent: The Formation of Historically Black Schools and the Lack of Well-Funded Higher Education for African Americans Before the Civil War,” Alma Mater: The History of American Colleges & Universities, February 11, 2014, https://edblogs.columbia.edu/histx3570-001-2014-1/2014/02/11/setting-a-precedent-the-formation-of-historically-black-schools-and-the-lack-of-well-funded-higher-education-for-african-americans-before-the-civil-war/

[2] This list excludes normal schools which evolved into colleges or universities as the schools aged (I.e. University of District of Columbia – Founded as Miner Normal School in 1851). Data is from a variety of sources, including Lovett’s America’s Historically Black Colleges & Universities: A Narrative History from the Nineteenth Century Into the Twenty-First Century, and cross-referenced with Wikipedia’s HBCU listing page. Both Figure 1 and 2 are by no means comprehensive but represent a solid overview of the schools founded during the era I’m evaluating.

[3] Data is from Leedell W. Neyland’s, “Historically Black Land-Grant Institutions and the Development of Agriculture and Home Economics, 1890-1990” as well as additional data.

[4] W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America: An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880, The Oxford W.E.B. Du Bois (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 545.

[5] Kenneth E. Redd, “Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Making a Comeback,” New Directions for Higher Education 1998, no. 102 (Summer 1998): 34.

[6] DuBois, Black Reconstruction, 545.

[7] Redd, “Historically Black,” 34.

[8]Frederick Rudolph, The American College and University: A History (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990), 244; Justin Smith Morrill, Morrill Act of 1862, 7 U.S. Code § 301, 1862.; Redd, “Historically Black,” 34.

[9] Leedell W. Neyland, Historically Black Land-Grant Institutions and the Development of Agriculture and Home Economics, 1890-1990 (Washington D.C.: Economic Research Service (DOA), 1990), 21; Chester Wilbert Wright, “A History of the Black Land-Grant Colleges: 1890-1916” (Ph.D. Dissertation, The American University, 1981).

[10] Roland G. Fryer, Jr. and Michael Greenstone, “The Changing Consequences of Attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” American Economic Association 2, no. 1 (January 2010), 119.

[11] Thomas J Ward Jr., Black Physicians in the Jim Crow South (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2003), 3.

[12] Randolph, American College, 262.

[13] The Fourteenth Amended provided for the equal protection of all citizens under the law, effectively enfranchising African Americans into the American legal tradition. As a result, African Americans were to receive equal treatment, later cemented in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) as separate but equal.

[14] Bobby L. Lovett, America’s Historically Black Colleges & Universities: A Narrative History from the Nineteenth Century Into the Twenty-First Century, 1st ed, America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities Series (Macon, Ga: Mercer University Press, 2011), 55.

[15] Ibid, 34.

[16] Ibid, 81.

[17] Redd, “Historically,” 34.

[18] Lovett, America’s Historically, 96.

[19] Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, 1st Perennial Classics ed, New American Nation Series (New York: Perennial Classics, 2002), 368.

[20] Waite, Cally L. “The Segregation of Black Students at Oberlin College after Reconstruction.” History of Education Quarterly 41, no. 3 (Autumn 2001), 357.

[21] Lovett, America’s Historically, 88.

[22] Ibid, 111.

[23] Ibid, 118.

[24]It was renamed the Conference of Presidents of Negro Land-Grant Colleges in 1924. Neyland, Historically, 76.

[25] Ibid, 78.

[26] James A. Hulbert, “National Survey of the Higher Education of Negroes, Vol. II: General Studies of Colleges for Negroes, Vol. III: Intensive Study of Selected Colleges for Negroes by Lloyd E. Blauch: Martin D. Jenkins,” The Library Quarterly 14, no. 1 (January 1944), 79.

[27] Ibid, 79.

Works Cited

Du Bois, W. E. B. Black Reconstruction in America: An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880. The Oxford W.E.B. Du Bois. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. http://books.google.com/books/about/Black_Reconstruction_in_America_1860_188.html?id=Nt5mglDCNHEC.

Foner, Eric. Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. 1st Perennial Classics ed. New American Nation Series. New York: Perennial Classics, 2002.

Fryer, Jr., Roland G., and Michael Greenstone. “The Changing Consequences of Attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities.” American Economic Association 2, no. 1 (January 2010): 116–48. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25760195.

Hulbert, James A. “National Survey of the Higher Education of Negroes, Vol. II: General Studies of Colleges for Negroes, Vol. III: Intensive Study of Selected Colleges for Negroes by Lloyd E. Blauch: Martin D. Jenkins.” The Library Quarterly 14, no. 1 (January 1944): 79–81. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4303196.

Lovett, Bobby L. America’s Historically Black Colleges & Universities: A Narrative History from the Nineteenth Century Into the Twenty-First Century. 1st ed. America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities Series. Macon, Ga: Mercer University Press, 2011.http://books.google.com/books/about/America_s_Historically_Black_Colleges_Un.html?id=rklcSAAACAAJ.

Morrill, Justin Smith. Morrill Act of 18627 U.S. Code § 301, 1862. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/7/301.

Neyland, Leedell W. Historically Black Land-Grant Institutions and the Development of Agriculture and Home Economics, 1890-1990. Washington D.C.: Economic Research Service (DOA), 1990. http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED330503.

Redd, Kenneth E. “Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Making a Comeback.” New Directions for Higher Education 1998, no. 102 (Summer 1998): 33–43. doi:10.1002/he.10203. http://doi.wiley.com/10.1002/he.10203.

Rudolph, Frederick. The American College and University: A History. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990. http://muse.jhu.edu/books/9780820342573.

Waite, Cally L. “The Segregation of Black Students at Oberlin College after Reconstruction.” History of Education Quarterly 41, no. 3 (Autumn 2001): 344–64. http://www.jstor.org/stable/369200.

Ward, Thomas J. Black Physicians in the Jim Crow South. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2003. http://books.google.com/books/about/Black_Physicians_in_the_Jim_Crow_South.html?id=QoMDMGoyXqsC.

Wright, Andrew. “Setting a Precedent: The Formation of Historically Black Schools and the Lack of Well-Funded Higher Education for African Americans Before the Civil War.” Alma Mater: The History of American Colleges & Universities, February 11, 2014. https://edblogs.columbia.edu/histx3570-001-2014-1/2014/02/11/setting-a-precedent-the-formation-of-historically-black-schools-and-the-lack-of-well-funded-higher-education-for-african-americans-before-the-civil-war/.

Wright, Chester Wilbert. “A History of the Black Land-Grant Colleges: 1890-1916.” Ph.D. Dissertation, The American University, 1981. http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/docview/303096720.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to A New Era: The Rise of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries

  1. Andrew Wright says:

    Just a quick note: My footnotes, for some reason, didn’t properly link to the actual note when I copied and pasted the text from my Word document. Some do include some commentary on sources and additional information so I’m sorry for the formatting issue.

Leave a Reply