Ethnic and Cultural Diversity in the Establishment and Development of Howard University, 1867-1910

by Dr. Clifford L. Muse, Jr.

     The establishment of Howard University and its development have been appropriately described as "one of the great romances of American education."[1]  The romance is one  of extraordinary men and women accomplishing noble deeds, of institutional survival wrought by biracial cooperation, of American societal and federal government largesse, and of interaction among peoples of different racial, sexual, economic, and cultural backgrounds.

     During the period 1867-1910, African Americans in larger numbers were finally able to pursue the important goal of educational development. Universities, like Atlanta University, Fisk University and Howard University, served as educational centers for African Americans and others in American society. Howard University’s genesis is traceable to a November 1866 meeting of the First Congregational Society of Washington, D.C.[2]   Concerned with the plight of the newly emancipated four million freedmen and two-hundred and fifty thousand African Americans born free, the Society’s members proposed the establishment of a theological seminary which could train African American ministers to assist in uplifting the African American race.[3]  The Society’s commitment to the original institution’s composition changed and expanded from November 1866 to January 1867.[4]   The institution evolved from a "theological seminary" to a "university." Howard University is named for General Oliver Otis Howard. He was the Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands (Freedmen’s Bureau) which supported the University financially during its early development, one of the original seventeen Caucasian incorporators of the University and Howard’s third president from 1869 to 1874. [5]

     The congressional legislation (Senate Bill 529) providing for the incorporation of "The Howard University" was signed by President Andrew Johnson on May 2, 1867.[6] 

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August 1999