Historically Black Colleges and Universities TimeLine

Before 1850s

Why HBCUs?
Before 1850s
Image Sources

Edmonia Lewis, Forever Free, (1867) Howard University Gallery of Art, Washington,D.C.


Cheyney University

Was established on February 25, 1837, through the bequest of Richard Humphreys, making it the oldest institution of higher learning for African Americans. 

At its founding in 1837, the university was named the African Institute. However, the name was changed several weeks later to the Institute for Colored Youth (ICY). In subsequent years, the university was renamed Cheyney Training School for Teachers (July 1914), Cheyney State Teacher’s College (1951), Cheyney State College (1959), and eventually Cheyney University of Pennsylvania (1983). 

Today, Cheyney University students represent a variety of races, cultures, and nationalities who receive quality instruction beyond the original vision of Humphreys. 

(Cheyney University, 2008)



Lincoln University

At the close of the Civil War, soldiers and officers of the 62nd United States Colored Infantry, stationed at Fort McIntosh, Texas, but composed primarily of Missourians, took steps to establish an educational institution in Jefferson City, Missouri, which they named Lincoln Institute. The following stipulations were set for the school:

1.  The institution shall be designed for the special benefit of the freed African-Americans;

2.  It shall be located in the state of Missouri;

3.  Its fundamental idea shall be to combine study and labor.

Members of the 62nd Colored Infantry contributed $5,000; this was supplemented by approximately $1,400, given by the 65th Colored Infantry. On January 14, 1866, Lincoln Institute was formally established under an organization committee. By June of the same year, it incorporated and the committee became a Board of Trustees. Richard Baxter Foster, a former first lieutenant in the 62nd Infantry, was named first principal of Lincoln Institute. On September 17, 1866, the school opened its doors to the first class in an old frame building in Jefferson City.

In 1869, Lincoln Institute moved to the present campus, and in 1870 it began to receive aid from the state of Missouri for teacher training. College-level work was added to the curriculum in 1877, and passage of the Normal School Law permitted Lincoln graduates to teach for life in Missouri without further examination. Lincoln Institute formally became a state institution in 1879 with the deeding of the property to the state. Under the second Morrill Act of 1890, Lincoln became a land grant institution, and the following year industrial and agricultural courses were added to the curriculum. 

In 1921, the Missouri Legislature passed a bill introduced by Walthall M. Moore, the first black American to serve in that body, which changed the name from Lincoln Institute to Lincoln University and created a Board of Curators to govern the University. 

The North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools accredited the high school division in 1925, the teacher-training program in 1926, and the four-year college of arts and sciences in 1934. Graduate instruction was begun in the summer session of 1940, with majors in education and history and minors in English, history, and sociology. A School of Journalism was established in February 1942. 

In 1954, the United States Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, and Lincoln University responded by opening its doors to all applicably meeting its entrance criteria. Today, Lincoln University serves a diverse clientele, both residential and non-residential, engages in a variety of research projects, and offers numerous public service programs in addition to providing an array of academic programs. (Lincoln University, 2008)



Wilberforce University

Founded in 1856, Wilberforce University can trace its origin to a period of history before the Civil War, when the Ohio Underground Railroad was established as a means of escape for all those blacks who sought their freedom in the North from the yoke of slavery, one of the destination points of this railroad became Wilberforce University. As the Underground Railroad provided a route from physical bondage, the University was formed to provide an intellectual Mecca and refuge from slavery's first rule: ignorance. 

Wilberforce University, the nation's oldest private, historically black university, was named to honor the great 18th century abolitionist, William Wilberforce. Early in 1856, the Methodist Episcopal Church purchased property for the new institution at Tawawa Springs, near Xenia, Ohio. The school met with early success until the Civil War when enrollment and financial support dwindled. The original Wilberforce closed its doors in 1862. In March of the following year, Bishop Daniel A. Payne of the African Methodist Episcopal Church negotiated to purchase the University's facilities. Payne, a member of the original 1856 corporation, secured the cooperation of John G. Mitchell, principal of the Eastern District Public School of Cincinnati, Ohio and James A. Shorter, pastor of the A.M.E. Church of Zanesville, Ohio. The property was soon turned over to them as agents of the church. (Wilberforce University, 2008)


 Introduction of the Morrill Bill

The individual states did not possess sufficient resources to push forward educational developments of this type on their own. Hence a number of enthusiasts launched a movement for federal support. By the 1840s the so-called farmer's vote in America was becoming increasingly self-conscious politically. There was more grass-roots support for the program of "vote yourself a farm" at this time than for special training in how to till such farms. Nevertheless, some farm organizations came to regard agricultural education as at least a partial cure for the farmer's economic ills. In the 1850s, the agitation of a gradually expanding agricultural press and of various local and national agricultural societies built up a growing body of opinion which demanded the establishment of what were called "democracy's colleges." Such men as Evan Pugh of Pennsylvania and Jonathan B. Turner of Illinois played a prominent role in mobilizing public sentiment in favor of such a project. Turner of Illinois College was an influential advocate in the Middle West of a government-subsidized "industrial university" and he may have been responsible for interesting Abraham Lincoln in the movement. The result was the introduction, in 1857, by Justin Morrill of a bill in Congress calling for federal aid to agricultural and mechanical colleges. Sectional differences prevented final approval until 1862. Then, with the southern delegations absent due to the Civil War, Congress passed the Morrill Act and President Lincoln signed it (Brubacher & Rudy, 2007).