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African American School Records

There are many, many historically black universities and colleges that were formed in the United States as early as the 1830s.  Considering that official desegregation of schools didn’t occur until the 1950s, if your ancestors were known for having received a formal education before then, you should investigate records from historically African American schools in the area they lived.  The first African American college established in the United States is Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, founded in 1837.  The original name of Cheyney University in 1937 was the African Institute.  The name was changed that same year to the Institute for Colored Youth, then to Cheyney Training School for Teachers in 1914, Cheyney State Teacher’s College in 1951, Cheyney State College in 1959, then Cheyney University of Pennsylvania in 1983.  Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, the second oldest (originally named The Ashmun Institute), was founded in 1854 and was the first African American college in the U.S. to ever grant a degree.  Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio was founded in 1856 and was one of the destination points of the underground railroad.  LeMoyne-Owen College of Memphis, Tennessee (originally LeMoyne Normal and Commercial School) was founded in 1862, starting as an elementary school for freedmen and runaway slaves to Camp Shiloh.  In 1863, LeMoyne moved to Memphis but was destroyed by fire in the race riots.  It was rebuilt and reopened in 1867.  Shaw University of North Carolina (originally the Raleigh Institute) was founded in 1865 as a theology class for African Americans and was the first historically black college in the country to be open to women.

There were, with many still operating today, also numerous elementary schools for black children in the 1800s and early 1900s.  An attempt to locate historical records from these schools may also prove to be well worth the effort.  The Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School in Washington, D.C. was built in 1868 as a public school for freed African Americans in the area.  By 1873, there were 949 students.  America’s largest black boarding school for children is Piney Woods Country Life School in Mississippi.  The school was opened in 1909 to teach the illiterate children of freed slaves how to farm and read.  The school is still open and running today.  And in 2014, about 97% of its graduates went on to college.  Finding records for your ancestors that may have attended schools such as these may also lead you to more information about their parents and their siblings, as well as provide more insight as to what their lives may have been like.


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