Know Ohio: Ohio's HBCUs

[Mary] Can you imagine someone telling you you can't go to a school just because of the way you look? And I'm not talking about a dress code violation. Before 1960, the United States was a very different place for African-Americans.

In some parts of the country, they were segregated. That means they were barred from many public spaces. Movie theaters, restaurants, and buses, all had separate areas for black people and white people. And they even have separate schools. In many southern states, African-Americans were forced into separate schools until high school, and higher education was mostly off limits.

Some colleges and universities barred African-Americans outright. Others just made life very difficult for them. Here in Ohio, some of our colleges were welcoming to all students. In fact, Oberlin College was one of the first colleges in the country to educate black students and women.

But getting a higher education, even in a desegregated state like Ohio was often tricky for black students. For instance, although Ohio State graduated its first African-American student all the way back in 1892, black students were not allowed to live on campus until the 1940s. And finding housing off campus was often impossible due to racism. It's for these reasons that schools dedicated to educating African-Americans were created.

The first historically black colleges were established in Pennsylvania, but very soon afterward, in 1856, Ohio's first black college was founded. Wilberforce University was established in Xenia through a partnership of two churches, the African Methodist Episcopal Church and a mostly white church from Cincinnati. Its first board of directors included several notable black ministers along with then Ohio governor, Salmon P. Chase.

The university is named after William Wilberforce, a British leader of the movement to abolish slavery. Many of its first students were free slaves from the South seeking a better life in Ohio. They took classes in teaching, law, and religious studies. During the Civil War, the school was purchased by the African Methodist Episcopal Church, making it the first private black college and the first to be owned and operated by African-Americans.

In 1888, the State of Ohio recognized how important this school was, and funded a sister school, Central State University, to teach skills related to industry, like manufacturing. Both, Central State University and Wilberforce, have educated generations of leaders, men and women who went on to become teachers, ministers, doctors, politicians, and entrepreneurs. And the schools continue their mission of educating students regardless of race, because although they were created specifically to educate black students, they admit students of all races.

Outside of Ohio, there are over 100 of these schools still in existence. These historically black colleges and universities hold a special place in American history, and are a great source of pride for African-Americans.

Instructional Links

Website: HBCU Lifestyle: List of HBCUs by State | Interactive map.

Website: Central State University

Website: Wilberforce University

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