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Howard, one of America’s ‘most Black’ universities is named after a white man

  • Howard University produces more on-campus African-American Ph.Ds than any other university in the world
  • Fourth largest HBCU (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) in the USA
  • Started in 1866, Howard would see to the education of 150,000 freed slaves by 1872
  • Was not until 1926 that Howard welcomed its first Black president, Dr Mordecai Wyatt Johnson
  • Howard – Black or African American (84.1%); Hispanic/Latino (1.3%); White (3.1%)
  • Howard, not the oldest Black university; that description goes to Cheyney University of Pennsylvania. 1837: Cheyney University of Pennsylvania opens its doors, established by Quaker Richard Humphreys as the “Institute for Colored Youth,” Cheyney University is America’s oldest historically black school of higher education

ON May 1, 1867, Howard University opened its doors and began accepting students. Howard University was founded in 1866 by missionaries as a training facility for Black preachers. It was decided that the school would be named after Civil war hero General Oliver O. Howard, a white man, who was serving as the Commissioner of the Freedman’s Bureau. The bureau, which was founded in 1865, was a US government agency that aided freed blacks.

Within a year, the school’s focus had expanded to include liberal arts and medical training.

On May 1, 1867, Howard University held classes with five white female students, the daughters of the school’s founders. Built on three acres, Howard University would see to the education of 150,000 freed slaves by 1872. General Oliver Howard served as president from 1869 to 1872.

It was not until 1926 that Howard University welcomed its first black president, Dr Mordecai Wyatt Johnson. Though the school lacked accreditation at that time, it had expanded to include eight schools and colleges. Johnson served as president for 34 years. By the time he retired, Howard University had 6,000 students, a budget of $8 million dollars, and more than doubled the number of buildings and facilities.

To date, Howard University is one of only 48 US private, doctoral/research-extensive universities and produces more on-campus African-American Ph.Ds. than any other university in the world.

Dr Mordecai Wyatt Johnson, President of Howard for 39 years, from 1926

Dr Mordecai Wyatt Johnson, President of Howard for 34 years, from 1926

Mordecai Wyatt Johnson (1890-1976):

Educator Mordecai Wyatt Johnson, African American educator, clergyman, administrator, and public speaker, was born on January 4, 1891, in Paris, Tennessee, the son of Reverend Wyatt J. Johnson, a former slave. Johnson learned through his parents’ example the muscle of self-determination, discipline, scholarship, and integrity. His father, a minister and laborer, was a stern man who worked at a mill six days a week, twelve hours a day, for forty years. His mother, Carolyn, offset his father’s firmness with patience and nurturing for her only child.

After completing the elementary grades, Johnson left Paris, Tennessee, to attend Roger Williams University in Nashville. Upon graduating from Atlanta Baptist College (later Morehouse College) in 1911, his oratorical ability won him critical acclaim. In 1922 Johnson delivered a commencement speech during his graduation from Harvard University Divinity School, titled “The Faith of the American Negro.” He also received his Doctor of Divinity degree from Gammon Theological Seminary Atlanta, Georgia.

Kelly Miller, Howard class of 1886: Mathematician, scientist, sociologist; first African-America admitted to Johns Hopkins University (1907-1919)

Kelly Miller, Howard class of 1886: Mathematician, scientist, sociologist; first African-America admitted to Johns Hopkins University (1907-1919)

On June 26, 1926, at the age of thirty-six, Johnson was unanimously elected the eleventh president of Howard University, becoming the first African American to serve as the permanent head of that institution. Prior to his appointment, Johnson had served as professor of economics and history at Morehouse. He had also served earlier as pastor of the First Baptist Church in Charleston, West Virginia.

During his tenure at Howard, Johnson appointed a number of people who became prominent scholars. They included Alain Locke, who was the first African American Rhodes Scholar and holder of a PhD from Harvard University; Ralph Bunche, professor of political science and later a Nobel Laureate; Charles Drew, who perfected the use of blood plasma; Percy Julian, a noted chemist; and Sterling Brown, professor of English and noted Harlem Renaissance poet.

Toni Morrison): Novelist, essayist, editor, teacher and professor emeritus at Princeton University. Nobel Prize for Literature; Pulitzer Prize

Toni Morrison: Novelist, essayist, editor, teacher and professor emeritus at Princeton University. Nobel Prize for Literature; Pulitzer Prize

His most important appointment was of Charles Hamilton Houston in 1929 as vice dean and later as dean of the Howard University Law School. While serving as dean, Houston was the architect of the strategy that dismantled the Jim Crow laws and laid the groundwork for the famous Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 by the United States Supreme Court.

Johnson raised millions of dollars for new buildings on the Howard campus and for upgrading all of the schools. National honor societies, including Phi Beta Kappa, were established on the campus of Howard during his tenure.

Thurgood Marshall, 1933 (Hoeard School of Law): First African-American United States Supreme Court justice

Thurgood Marshall, 1933 (Howard School of Law): First African-American United States Supreme Court justice

Johnson brought Howard University into national prominence and served as its president of Howard for thirty-four years, from 1926 until his retirement in 1960. In this time, the enrollment at Howard University had increased from two thousand in 1926 to more than ten thousand in 1960.

Under the Johnson Administration at Howard University, the number of faculty tripled and faculty salaries doubled, Congressional appropriations increased to $6,000,000 annually, and Howard University’s Freedmen’s Hospital was training half the African American physicians in the country. Perhaps Dr. Johnson’s greatest contribution was the development of the University’s Law School as the preeminent source of civil rights attorneys and law professors, including future U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall. He also had a profound influence on Martin Luther King Jr.’s commitment to nonviolence resistance.

During his tenure, Johnson appointed Charles Hamilton Houston as dean of the law school, and whom played a significant role in dismantling the Jim Crow laws.

Johnson raised millions of dollars for new buildings and for upgrading all of the schools. National honor societies, including Phi Beta Kappa, were established on the campus of Howard.

Sterling Allen Brown: Harlem Renaissance Poet

Sterling Allen Brown: Harlem Renaissance Poet

During his administration, it was said that Howard had the greatest collection of African American scholars to be found anywhere. Notable scholars at Howard included:

  • Alain Locke, graduated from English and Philosophy at Harvard, and was the first African American Rhodes Scholar,
  • Ralph Bunche, professor of political science and later a Nobel Laureate;
  • Charles Drew, who perfected the use of blood plasma;
  • Percy Julian, a noted chemist;
  • and Sterling Brown, professor of English and noted Harlem Renaissance poet.
Ralph Bunche, professor of political science and later a Nobel Laureate

Ralph Bunche, professor of political science and later a Nobel Laureate

Johnson brought Howard university into national prominence and served as president of Howard for 34 years, since 1926 until his retirement in 1960. In this time the enrollment at Howard University increased from 2,000 in 1926 to more than 10,000 in 1960.

Mordecai Wyatt Johnson died on September 10, 1976, at the age of eighty-six in Washington, D.C. He left behind a wife, Anna Ethelyn Gardner, and five children.

The Largest HBCUs by Enrollment:

10. Albany State University (ASU)

9. Morgan State University (MSU)

8. North Carolina Central University (NCCU)

7. Tennessee State University (TSU)

6. Jackson State University (JSU)

5. Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU)

4. Howard University (HU)

3. Florida A&M University (FAMU)

2. Texas Southern University (TSU)

1. North Carolina A&T State University (NCAT)

Student Population: 11,877

Location: Greensboro, North Carolina

Some prominent alumni of Howard:

Academics

Science, Medicine, Mathematics:

Alexander Darnes, MD, 1880: Born into slavery; owned by Conference General Edmund Kirby Smith; second African-American physician in Florida, first African-American physician in Jacksonville, Floridagist; first African-American woman doctor to receive a patent for a medical invention.

University administrators:

Louis Eugene King, 1920: Anthropologist; first to study African-American communities in the United States

Frederic E Davison, right, Howard class of 1938: First US African-American Major General and Division Commander in the US Army

Frederic E Davison, right, Howard class of 1938: First US African-American Major General and Division Commander in the US Army

Military service:

Benjamin O Davis Snr: few classes, did not matriculate. Brigadier General, first African-American general in the US Army

Frederic E Davison, 1938: First African-American Major General and Division Commander in the US Army

Togo West, 1965 also JD 1968: Former Secretary of Veteran Affairs; former Secretary of the Army

Lester Lyles, 1968: General, US Air Force; Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force; Commander, Air Force Material Command, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio

Politics and Public Service:

Thurgood Marshall, 1933 (School of Law): First African-American United States Supreme Court justice

Andrew Young

Andrew Young

Andrew Young: First African-American United Nations Ambassador and former mayor of Atlanta, Georgia

Kwame Ture, 1964: Activist, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), born Stokely Charmichael

Kamala Harris, 1986: Second African-American women elected to the United States Senate and former Attorney General of California

Film and television:

Ossie Davis, 1951: American film, television and Broadway actor, director, poet, playwright, author, and civil rights activist

Marlon Lamont Wayans: American actor, comedian, screenwriter, and film producer, beginning with his role as a pedestrian in I’m Gonna Git You Sucka in 1988. He frequently collaborates with his brother Shawn Wayans, as he was on The WB sitcom The Wayans Bros

Sean John Combs: Also known by the stage names Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, Puffy or Diddy, is an American rapper, singer, record executive, actor, record producer, and entrepreneur. Completed two years (1989, 1990), 2014. Received an honorary doctorate from Howard in 2014 at the spring commencement ceremony where he served as the keynote speaker

Roberta Flack, Howard alumni and music fame

Roberta Flack, Howard alumni and music fame

Roberta Cleopatra Flack: American singer. She is known for her #1 singles “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, “Killing Me Softly with His Song” and “Feel Like Makin’ Love”, and for “Where Is the Love” and “The Closer I Get to You”, two of her many duets with Donny Hathaway

Nobel laureates:

Ralph Johnson Bunche: American political scientist, academic, and diplomat received the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize for his late 1940s mediation in Israel. He was the first African American to be so honored. He was involved in the formation and administration of the United Nations. In 1963, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President John F. Kennedy

Toni Morrison (born Chloe Ardelia Wofford): American novelist, essayist, editor, teacher and professor emeritus at Princeton University. Nobel Prize for Literature; Pulitzer Prize

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