Howard University, one of the oldest black colleges in the United States, was established by an act of Congress in 1866. In recognition of the need for newly freed individuals to have access to education, it was designated as "a university for the education of youth in the liberal arts and sciences." Currently, Howard University has four campuses totaling more than 240 acres. Its alumni roster reads like a Who's Who of African Americans. This is particularly true of those who graduated prior to World War II, when the U.S. educational system was more racially codified. Howard University is still considered "the capstone of Negro education."

Howard University was started in 1866, when members of the white First Congregational Society of Washington, D.C. (now the First Congregational Church) met to plan for a theological seminary to train black ministers. The idea for the school slowly broadened and by 1867 it had been renamed Howard University, honoring General Oliver Otis Howard, a member of the society. As a university, the institution reflected the founders' desires to educate "Negroes and youth." Ironically, the first four students in the school were white females, children of the trustees. In the early years, whites played a significant role as presidents, trustees, and teachers. A decisive shift occurred with the appointment of Mordecai Wyatt Johnson as president in 1926.

Howard University attracted nationally and internationally renowned scholars, among them mathematician William J. Baudi, English professor Benjamin Brawley, law professor Charles Hamilton Houston, sociologist E. Franklin Frazier, biologist Ernest Everett Just, English professor Alain Locke, sociologist and dean Kelly Miller, and dean Lucy Diggs Slowe — all of whom also contributed greatly to everyday life in Washington. The university also helped give birth to and nurture many of the civil rights and black power movements, organizations, institutions, individual leaders, and victories of the late 19th and 20th centuries.


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