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Howard University in the Late 19th Century

Freedmen’s Bureau school in New Bern, North Carolina

After the Civil War, newly freed African Americans sought to provide an education for themselves and their children. Many newly free communities used churches as places of both worship and education. The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands made education a major part of its work in the southern and border states, providing freed communities with funds, materials, and educators to build schools for Black children and adults. The Freedmen’s Bureau also created their own schools in freed communities. Black elected officials passed laws to establish public school systems and make education more widely available to all children.

African Americans also pursued higher education. Though some African Americans earned degrees from American universities as early as 1804, most colleges and universities would not admit Black students. Lincoln University, founded in 1854, and Wilberforce College, founded in 1856, were some of the earliest schools created specifically for educating Black students. Churches, abolitionist societies, and communities worked together to establish what are now known as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across the country after the Civil War. Fisk University, founded in 1866, and Howard University, chartered in 1867, were two of the earliest HBCUs. These educational spaces laid the groundwork for the generations that followed.

Freedmen’s Bureau school in New Bern, North Carolina