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Here’s Everything You Need To Know About The Birth of Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Here’s Everything You Need To Know About The Birth of Historically Black Colleges and Universities

hey were born out of necessity!

Historically Black colleges and universities, also known as HBCUs, are a hot topic right now. Everywhere you go, people are talking about ways to support HBCUs as a viable pipeline for closing the gap on a number of social ills predominantly impacting Black and brown youth. From the resurgence of Black athletes to HBCU sports programs as a surefire way to ensure institutions get major funding to the creation of $1.8 million in microgrants by billionaire Robert Smith specifically for HBCU students to help tackle rising student debt, it is essential to ensure that students at historically Black academic institutions get an equal and fair shot at life. 

Not only are HBCUs an incubator for Black success, but they are also necessary for fostering community, continuing tradition and culture, and preserving the richness of African-American history. While some may be aware of how HBCUs even became a thing, many are not. That’s why we’ve decided to give you all a little history lesson on the origins of HBCUs. Here’s everything you need to know about the birth of historically Black colleges and universities:



According to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, HBCUs were established in the early 19th century with the aim of “provid[ing] undergraduate and graduate level educational opportunities to people of African descent.” During that time, Black people were not permitted at existing higher education institutions, even after legislation passed. As a result, we created our own, thus the HBCU was born.


Washington and Lee University admit John Chavis, the first African-American on record to attend a college.



Alexander Lucius Twilight becomes the first African-American to earn a bachelor’s degree from a university in America.



Richard Humphreys founds the African Institute, the first HBCU, now known as Cheyney University in Pennsylvania



Miner Normal School is founded in Washington, D.C.



Lincoln University is founded in Pennsylvania



Wilberforce University is founded in Ohio by the African Methodist Episcopal Church, becoming the first HBCU operated by African-Americans



Mary Jane Patterson makes history as the first African-American woman to earn a bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College, an abolitionist-centered educational institute in Ohio



The last enslaved people are freed in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863



A plethora of HBCUs began popping up, many of them across the South. A lot of the early HBCUs were funded by the Freedmen’s Bureau, a federal organization created post-Civil War and the abolition of slavery with the goal of helping formerly enslaved people adjust to freedom, Brittanica reports



Atlanta University is founded, now known as Clark Atlanta University



Bowie State University is founded in Maryland



Howard University is founded in Washington, D.C.



The Augusta Institute is founded, now known as Morehouse College



The Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary is founded. In 1924 it became Spelman College



Booker T. Washington establishes the Tuskegee Institute for agricultural and industrial education 



Amendment to Land-Grant College Act of 1862 granted, promoting the creation of African-American land-grant colleges


1891 - 1960s

HBCUs continued to be founded all across the U.S., with many still being established into the late ‘70s. These HBCUs included J.F. Drake State Technical College (1961), University of the Virgin Islands (1962), Southern University at Shreveport (1967), and Morehouse School of Medicine (1975)



Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) founded before 1964 are technically considered the original HBCUs



Black institutions of higher learning founded after 1964 are known as predominantly Black institutions (PBIs)



Today, there are 101 total HBCU institutions, accounting for both IHEs and PBIs combined. HBCUs make up just 2.3% of the total “4,298 degree-granting postsecondary institutions” as reported by the U.S. Department of Education. HBCUs are the only other educational institutions that specifically serve an ethnic minority group outside of Native American/tribal institutions.


While many started as a way to provide a basic educational framework for those looking to navigate the newly free world, they have turned into dominant educational powerhouses, HBCUs granting 79% of the bachelor’s degrees, 72% of the master’s degrees, and 59% of the doctorate degrees given to Black students in the 2019/2020 school year, as reported by the National Center for Education Statistics

While HBCUs have never been impervious to the ravaging impact of systemic racism, as evidenced by lack of funding, accreditation issues, and outlandish but persistent critiques of their relevance, they have persisted. And in 2022, HBCUs continue to be a beacon of light and hope for students of African descent everywhere searching for a quality education.

Everything you need to know about the birth of HBCUs. Photo Courtesy of Fair Use Images