This Content was Contributed by Artaeza Poole-Gwynn

HBCUs are institutions that were founded before 1964 in the United States, a time when black students were not permitted to attend school with white students. The original intention of these institutions was primarily to provide African American students with a college or university to attend after completing high school. Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have been cornerstones of the African-American community for many years. When minorities and women in the United States could not attend institutions of higher education, HBCUs opened their doors to a diverse population of students and teachers, welcoming people of all kinds. This interactive website tells the story of the foundation of these institutions and details the roles these schools played in American history.

Morris Brown College baseball team (1900)


Diversifying the Education System

After the American Revolution, approximately nine colleges and universities had been founded in the United States. Religious groups or denominations such as the Quakers sponsored many of these institutions. Some of the Quakers during that time believed that black students should’ve been given the opportunity to attend institutions of higher education just as the white students were. Quaker institutions like Haverford College in Pennsylvania began admitting black students during a time when segregation was very prevalent all over the country. In the South, a few religious-based universities admitted black students as well. Prior to the civil war in the 1860s, Berea (Kentucky), Franklin (Indiana) and Maryville College (Tennessee) all allowed black students to attend.

This is important to understand because during that time slavery was still widespread. Slavery in the United States did not end until 1865, and a vast majority of African Americans – both free and enslaved — were illiterate. Some of the first HBCUs were formed during this time. Various religious groups and anti-slavery supporters founded the first HBCUs in the north in the mid 1800s.

Atlanta University [now Clark Atlanta] students rest on steps (1900)

After the Civil War, more HBCUs were formed with the support of religious groups and the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862. The Morrill Land Grant Act saved millions of acres of public land to be used to benefit public colleges and universities. The act was a great building block in the formation of HBCUs in the United States, prompting the formation of almost all of the land grant universities in this country. The Morrill Land Grant Act endorsed for federal lands to be allocated for public colleges including but not limited to historically black colleges and universities. Over a twenty-year time span, almost 150 colleges were founded. Many of these public institutions were specifically built for African Americans students during that time, and most African American students were limited to attending these schools at that time.

Hampton Institute [now University] class studying earth's rotation (1899)