Black History: Special Delivery!!


Cheyney University

1905 Physics Class at Cheyney Unversity (Founded as Institute For Colored Youth, Cheyney was the first institution of higher learning for blacks in the U.S.)


 Before the U.S. Civil War, there was no higher education system established for African American students. In fact, many states had laws in place which prohibited the education of blacks. The first school to provide higher education for African American students was the Institute For Colored Youth founded in 1837 which would later become Cheney University. Lincoln University located in Pennsylvania (1854) and Wilberforce University located in Ohio (1856) soon open their doors as well.

These new schools were often called, “colleges”, “universities”, or “institutes”. However, their major focus in their early years was to provide elementary and high school level education for students of various ages that had not had any formal education. With the Emancipation Proclamation, and subsequent freedom of slaves; many African Americans could now pursue educational opportunities that they had been denied while enslaved. It would not be until the early 1900’s that HBCU’s would offer college level courses.

After the Civil War, the “Second Morrill Act” of 1890 was enacted. The Act set forth that states with racially segregated educational systems had to establish a land-grant institution for its African American students whenever a land-grant institution was established for white students. In other words, when a state college or university was opened for whites, then one also had to be opened for blacks as well. This resulted in institutions of higher learning for blacks being opened in each of the southern border states. Initially, 16 black institutions were identified as land-grant institutions. These schools offered a variety of courses in subjects such as agriculture, mechanics, etcs. Initially, few offered college level courses or degrees.

In 1896, the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision enacted a “separate but equal” statute for public education. This meant that it was “legal” for black and whites to be separated for purposes of education (elementary, secondary, post secondary). This court decision also encouraged the training and development of black teachers at black colleges so that they could be employed in segregated schools. Simultaneously, the increase in black secondary schools (high schools) decreased the need for black colleges and universities to provide high school/college prep education for black students.

Overtime, HBCU’s would expand their course offerings to include graduate level courses as well. However, more blacks now had to be admitted to white colleges and universities because their HBCU’s did not always offer comparable educational programs. As a result graduate level education settings began to desegregate. In 1954, the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision would strike down “separate but equal” laws and require integration of public schools. Even with the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, many HBCU schools continued to remain segregated. HBCU’s often had to contend with lower funding and lack of educational resources when compared with white schools. Many public HBCU’s merged with white institutions or closed. Years after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, many blacks still continued to attend HBCU’s

HBCU’s continue to play an important role in providing higher education.   Greater than 80% of all blacks receiving degrees in dentistry and medicine have been trained at HBCU’s.   HBCU’s have provided undergraduate education to 75% of blacks holding doctorate degrees. HBCU’s lead the way in providing bachelors degrees to black students pursuing life science, physical science, math, and engineering. 50% of black faculty in traditionally white research universities graduated with bachelors degrees from HBCU’s.   There are currently 105 HBCU’s operating today. These 105 HBCUs comprise just 3% of US colleges and universities. However, HBCU’s graduate nearly 20% of African Americans who earn undergraduate degrees. HBCU’s have a legacy of educational excellence and they continue to educate some of the brightest minds in the U.S. today.


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