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Posted on September 16, 2021 at 12:08 PM by Melissa Dalton
Did you know that Greene County is home to the only Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in Ohio? Wilberforce University and Central State University are the only two in Ohio, and both have a very long history. As last week (September 5 – September 11) was National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week, we wanted to acknowledge the history and achievements of the two institutions in our region.
Wilberforce University (WU) is the oldest private HBCU in the United States. Wilberforce was founded in 1856 in the area of Tawawa Springs, during a time in our nation’s history when many African Americans were enslaved and denied the right to learn to read or write, let alone receive any sort of higher education. It was a bold endeavor, and as such, the University was named for William Wilberforce, an abolitionist, who is famously quoted as saying “we are too young to realize that certain things are impossible… So, we do them anyway.”
In 1862, shortly after the start of the Civil War, Wilberforce was forced to close. However, in 1863, Bishop Daniel Payne of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (Fig 1), negotiated for the purchase and reopening of the University. On July 10, 1863, the University was re-incorporated and Payne became the President of the University.
Fig 1. Bishop Daniel A. Payne (from M. Broadstone's 1918 History of Greene County, Ohio)
Wilberforce University has endured, and this year marks 165 years since the original establishment of the university. Wilberforce is a four-year accredited liberal arts institution, and offers roughly twenty programs of study, as well as several extra-curricular activities for the students (Fig 2). Wilberforce continues to make its students the top priority, and last year, forgave $375,000 in student loan debt for students graduating in 2020-2021.
Fig 2. Catalogue for Wilberforce University, 1899-1900 from the 1901 Courthouse Time Capsule (Greene County Archives)
Central State University
Central State University (CSU) had its beginnings as a part of Wilberforce University. In 1887, the Combined Normal and Industrial Department was established at Wilberforce by the Ohio General Assembly. This department was developed to provide training for teachers, as well as vocational education, and offered two-year degree programs (Fig 3).
Fig 3. 1938 Map of Wilberforce College, and the Normal and Industrial Department (Greene County Engineer Maps)
Although the department remained part of WU, a separate board of trustees was appointed. In 1947, the department formally split from Wilberforce and became the College of Education and Industrial Arts at Wilberforce. In 1951, the name was changed to Central State College, and fourteen years later in 1965, the institution gained university status, becoming Central State University.
Central State University is an 1890 Land-Grant Institution, which are historically black universities that were established under the Second Morrill Act of 1890. The intention of the Act was to expand research and teaching in the food and agricultural sciences, and would be open to all applicants regardless of race, sex, creed, or color.
The University saw continued growth for many years, but when the 1974 tornado hit, almost seventy percent of the facilities/buildings were destroyed. However, the spirit of the school was not lost, and students returned to classes and the university was determined to rebuild.
Fig 4. Map of the affected areas of the 1974 Tornado, with many CSU buildings destroyed (Greene County Engineer Maps)
Today, Central State University remains a public institution, and offers over thirty bachelor degree programs. It has weathered many storms during its 134-year history, but continues to strive to provide quality and affordable education to all students.
Central State University: https://www.centralstate.edu/
Wilberforce University: https://wilberforce.edu/
Greene County Archives
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