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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

The Intricate History of Black Colleges

Updated: Mar 5, 2023

Students at Atlanta University, chartered by the American Missionary Association in 1869 (Photo from Era of progress and promise, 1863-1910: the religious, moral, and educational development of the American Negro since his emancipation) (1910)


At the end of the bloody Civil War in 1865, most former slaves lacked jobs, skills, opportunities and literacy. In many states, it had been illegal to teach reading and writing to a slave.

Passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution, guaranteeing 4 million newly freed slaves the same civil rights as those of whites, did not spare Blacks untold violence in the South.

Two organizations, among others, believed that education was a priority for freed slaves, so they founded schools. They were the U.S. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (the Freedmen's Bureau) and the American Missionary Association. Two Civil War generals with a guiding Protestant ethos -- Samuel Chapman Armstrong and Oliver Otis Howard -– contributed greatly to the cause as did many African Americans, Northerners, philanthropists and other missionary groups.

On March 3, 1865, Congress passed An Act to Establish a Bureau for the Relief of Freedmen and Refugees to provide food, shelter, clothing, medical supplies, and land to displaced Southerners, including newly freed African Americans, according to the United States Senate. The U.S. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (the Freedmen's Bureau), was established to operate "during the present war of rebellion and for one year thereafter", also would establish schools, supervise contracts between freed people and employers, and manage confiscated or abandoned lands.

The Freedmen’s Bureau was thwarted from protecting legal and land rights of former slaves. It focused on establishing networks of schools and churches.

General Oliver Otis Howard, the head of the bureau and a founder of Howard University said in his Autobiography of Oliver Otis Howard, major general, United States army: volume 2: (1908):

“The opposition to Negro education made itself felt everywhere in a combination not to allow the freed men any room or building in which a school might be taught. In 1865, 1866, and 1867, mobs of the baser classes at intervals and in all parts of the South occasionally burned school buildings and churches used as schools, flogged teachers or drove them away and, in a number of instances, murdered them.”

State by state, in the chapter, The Ku-Klux Klan, Howard delineates in 16 pages stories of killings, beatings and threats to the bureau’s workers throughout the South. The first appearance of a secret society was early in 1868 before the first election after the Civil War, which General Ulysses S. Grant would win, when workers in Charlestown, West Virginia, received a threatening note from the Ku-Klux Klan.

“The grand object of the ‘Solid South’, so called, was to prevent what was denominated ‘negro denomination’. The secret societies turned their machinery against Union Southerners to silence or convert them; against ‘carpet baggers (which included the Northern teachers of colored schools) to banish them; and against all negroes to so intimidate and terrorize them that they would not dare to vote except as their new masters directed. All my officers were naturally involved in the dangers and sufferings of their wards. . . .

“The secret bodies had different names in different localities. They appeared as ‘Regulators,’ ‘White Caps,’ Pale Faces,’ ‘Knights of the White Camellia,’ and Ku-Klux’ or ‘Ku-Klux Klan. (Ex-Confederate) General Forrest testified before the Congressional Committee that his estimate of their numbers in Tennessee alone exceeded 40,000.”


“Howard medical students watch a gall-bladder operation in the amphitheater of Freedmen’s Hospital, a Negro hospital affiliated with the university. Howard is nationally famous for the high standards of its medical and dental schools,” Life magazine wrote in a photo essay on Howard University in 1946. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt/Life)


American Missionary Society

By 1866, the American Missionary Association began to focus its resources on normal schools and colleges to train African American teachers, according to the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University.

Within three years, it had chartered seven institutions for higher learning.

(The term, normal, is from the French ecole normale. It refers to the goal of the teacher training institute to instill particular norms regarding behavior, societal values, ideologies and dominant narratives in the curriculum.)

The chartered schools that targeted African Americans were Fisk University (then Fisk Free Colored School), Tennessee; Atlanta University, Georgia; Hampton University (Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute), Virginia; Talladega College, Alabama; Tougaloo University, Mississippi, and Dillard University (then Straight University), Louisiana.

The seventh chartered school was Berea College, Kentucky, founded in 1855. It was an interracial school for both men and women on a 10-acre homestead granted by abolitionist Cassius Marcellus Clay (1810-1903), according to the Berea College website. Clay, a wealthy planter from a political family advocated gradual emancipation, according to 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica. Clay graduated in 1832 from Yale University, where he had heard abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, publisher of The Liberator speak to a crowd, reported Yale News (June 9, 2016). Garrison promoted immediate and uncompensated emancipation of slaves.

(Nine years after the death of the Kentucky statesman and publisher of an anti-slavery newspaper, Herman Heaton Clay, believed to be the son of a slave, named his son after the abolitionist who, in turn, gave his son the same name. Herman Clay’s grandson gained renown as world heavyweight boxer, Muhammad Ali, according to Forbes (December 19, 2001) and Real Clear Politics (June 13, 2016).) Ex-slaves customarily took the surnames of their former owners. Muhammad Ali was born in Louisville, Kentucky.)

Manual Labor, Slavery Seen As Synonymous

According to Berea College, the southern Appalachian school agreed on a work-study program for as many students as possible to help them pay expenses and, importantly, to dignify manual labor at a time when manual labor and slavery tended to be synonymous in the South. In Europe, this demeaning attitude toward those who engaged in manual work, skilled and unskilled, was a vestige of the feudal system.

According to Amistad Research Center: “The curriculums of these schools were modeled after the better Northern schools of the time, combining academic and industrial courses.”

The American Missionary Association also helped to establish Howard University, according to Amistad Research Center. It contributed the entire support for its theological department.

According to The American Missionary newspaper (January 1878):

“Institutions Founded, Fostered or Sustained in the South:

“Chartered: Hampton (Normal and Agricultural Institute, now Hampton University), Va.: Berea (College), Ky.; Talladega (College), Ala.; Atlanta (University) (now Clark Atlanta University), Georgia; (Fisk Free Colored School, now Fisk University), Nashville, Tenn.; Tougaloo (University), Miss.; (Straight University, now Dillard University), New Orleans, Louisiana; and (Tillotson College, now Huston-Tillotson University), Austin, Texas (8) (sic): Graded or Normal Schools: at Wilmington, Raleigh, N.C.; Charleston, Greenwood, S.C.; Macon, Atlanta, Ga.; Montgomery, Mobile, Athens, Selma, Ala; Memphis, Tenn. (11); Other Schools: 7; Total: 26 (sic).”

According to the Amistad Research Center:

“By 1879, 150,000 pupils in the South were being taught by graduates of American Missionary Association normal school and colleges. And by 1888, the Association’s schools had educated 7,000 teachers.”

Amistad Research Center was established within the Race Relations Department of Fisk University in 1966 to house the AMA’s historical records, as a nucleus for primary documents on the history of ethnic minorities in the United States. Largely due to space, it moved to Dillard University in 1970, the old U.S. Mint building in 1980 and Tulane University in 1987, all in New Orleans.


“The 43 (Amistad) captives’ arrival in New Haven in September 1839 caused a sensation. Townspeople lined the streets as the Africans were marched from the Long Wharf to the jail. Colonel Stanton Pendleton, the jailer, charged curiosity seekers a shilling each to view his unusual prisoners. Phrenologists visited the jail to measure the captives’ skulls,” reported Yale News (March 7, 2016).

“(William H.) Townsend captured their humanity. His drawings depict distinct individuals.”


La Amistad Captives Seized Ship

The American Missionary Association was established in 1846 by a network of abolitionists who met at the Second Convention on Bible Missions. Some of its members previously had united in the legal defense of La Amistad captives in 1839, according to Amistad Research Center, which was named for the Spanish ship, La Amistad (Friendship).

According to the National Archives: Educator Resources (June 2, 2021):

“In February of 1839, Portuguese slave hunters abducted a large group of Africans from Sierra Leone and shipped them to Havana, Cuba, a center for the slave trade. This abduction violated all the treaties then in existence. To Spanish plantation owners, Pedro Montes and Jose Ruiz, purchased 53 Africans and put them aboard the Cuban schooner Amistad to ship them to a Caribbean plantation. On July 1, 1839, the Africans seized the ship, killed the captain and the cook, and ordered Montes and Ruiz to sail to Africa.

“Montes and Ruiz actually steered the ship north; and on August 24, 1839, the Amistad was seized off Long Island, New York, by the U.S. brig Washington. The schooner, its cargo, and all on board were taken to New London, Connecticut. The plantation owners were freed and the Africans imprisoned on charges of murder.

“Although the murder charges were dismissed, the Africans continued to be held in confinement and the case went to trial in the Federal District Court in Connecticut. The plantation owners, government of Spain, and captain of the Washington each claimed rights to the Africans or compensation.

“President Martin Van Buren was in favor of extraditing the Africans to Cuba. However, abolitionists in the North opposed extradition and raised money to defend the Africans. Had it not been for the actions of abolitionists in the United States, the issues related to the Amistad might have ended quietly in an admiralty court. But they used the incident as a way to expose the evils of slavery and generate significant opposition to the practice.”

Local abolitionist groups organized a defense fund for the Africans, hired a translator and provided material support, according to Cornell Law School (1998).

Amistad Research Center reported: “In 1841, two years of court appeals pushed their case up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where they were declared free.”

The 35 survivors of the original 53 Africans chose to return to Africa.


The Departure by Alfred Jones

The Caravan, the ship of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, departed from Salem, Massachusetts, on February 19, 1812, heading for India with the group’s first missionaries.


The Haystack Group

The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions was inspired by the Haystack Prayer Meeting at Williamstown, Massachusetts, in 1806. The meeting occurred in the Second Great Awakening in the country's surge of religious vitality , said the Rev. Dr. John C. Lombard on the occasion of the meeting's 200th anniversary in August 2006. The Protestant experience recognized the capacity for moral action.

Samuel J. Mills (1783-1818) was one of the five "Men of the Haystack". According to Williams College and Foreign Missions: biographical sketches of Williams College men who have rendered special service to the cause of foreign missions (1914):

“He had planned schemes of colonization and by his efforts had brought about the establishment of the African School (‘for the educating of young men of colour to be teachers and preachers to people of colour within these states and beyond’ in the home of a socially prominent free black man) at Parsippany, New Jersey. When, in 1817, there was formed “The American Society for colonizing the free people of color in the United States”, Mills saw his opportunity. He not only suggested and, by request, prepared a pamphlet setting forth to the public the purposes of the Colonization Society, but he volunteered to visit Africa as the agent of Society and select a site for the proposed colony.”

Mills died on the sea voyage home from the scouting journey.

The American Colonization Society modeled its work on the British Crown Colony of Sierra Leone, with Freetown as its capital, founded in 1808.

The British sent several groups of people there, including Nova Scotia black Loyalists, who had fought with the British in the Revolutionary War; Jamaican Maroons, who had fled slavery and whom the British deported to Nova Scotia after the Second Maroon War in 1796; the liberated Africans who had been illegally enslaved and rescued by anti-slavery patrols of the West Africa Squadron of the Royal Navy, and the “Black Poor”, a collective name for 18th-century indigent blacks, who were of diverse origins, with the core of the community being people brought to London as slaves or indentured servants.

The American Colonization Society began its settlement in West Africa for the repatriation of black people of the United States in 1821. It called the settlement Liberia.

The Haystack organization had, at first, been offered the resettlement and care of the Amistad Africans at the Mendi Mission, “if that organization would adopt the principles of Christian abolitionism”, wrote the Amistad Research Center:

“The continued refusal of the American Board to adopt abolitionist principles led not only to the organization of the Union Missionary Society but also the Western Evangelical Missionary Society and the Committee for West Indian Missions. It was representatives of these three organizations, as well as other evangelical abolitionists, who came together at the convention of 1846, at which the American Missionary Association was founded. The American Missionary Association then absorbed the Union Missionary Society, the Western Evangelical Missionary Society, and the Committee for West Indian Missions.

“The settlement of the Amistad captives to Sierra Leone was administered by the Amistad Committee, which operated the Mendi Mission. Later, the supervision of the mission was transferred to the Union Missionary Society.”

What did the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) have to say about slavery? In its minutes of the 39th annual meeting on September 12, 1848 in Tremont Temple, Boston, Massachusetts, it said:

“A writer of unquestioned opposition to slavery, to whose discriminating pen the Board is indebted, has justly remarked, that it would seem to be within the discretion of a missionary in a slave-holding community, whether he will attack slavery directly and, by name, or "whether he will strike at some one or more of the things which enter essentially into it, and the wrong of which can, in the actual circumstances of the community, be set home with convincing power upon the conscience of the slaveholder.

“Slavery is, indeed, at variance with the principles of the Christian religion, and must disappear in any community, in proportion as the gospel gains upon the understandings and the hearts of men.

“But the Board and its missionaries are restricted to moral means, and these must have time and opportunity to exert their appropriate influence.

“Missionaries should be employed who deserve confidence, and then confidence should be reposed in them; nor should results be required, which are beyond the powers of their labors to produce. Many things which, at first, might seem desirable for the Board to do are found on a nearer view, to lie entirely beyond its jurisdiction; so that to attempt them would be useless, nay, a ruinous usurpation. Nor is the Board at liberty to withdraw its confidence from missionaries, because of such differences of opinion among them, as are generally found and freely tolerated among presbyteries, council, associations, and other bodies at home.”

On the other hand, the American Missionary Society’s position on slavery was complete and immediate rejection. The organization forbade slave ownership by members in two articles of the American Missionary Society’s constitution, which was incorporated on January 30, 1849:

ART. III. Any person of evangelical sentiments, who professes faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is not a slaveholder, or in the practice of other immoralities, and who contributes to the funds may become a member of the Society; and by the payment of thirty dollars a life member; provided that children and others who have not professed their faith, may be constituted life members without the privilege of voting.

ART. VIII. The Society, in collecting funds, in appointing officers, agencies and missionaries, and in selecting fields of labor, and in conducting the missionary work, will endeavor particularly to discountenance slavery, by refusing to receive the known fruits of unrequited labor, or to welcome to its employment those who hold their fellow-beings as slaves.

The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) followed up its take on slavery with its attitude toward polygamy at the meeting of 1848:

“Polygamy stands on a somewhat different footing than Slavery. Little difficulty is apprehended from it in gathering native churches. The evidence that polygamists were admitted into the church by the Apostles, is extensively and increasingly regarded as inconclusive, by the patrons of the Board. We nowhere find instructions in the New Testament to persons holding this relation. Nor is there evidence of the practice having existed in any of the churches subsequent to the apostolic age. The Committee believe, that no positive action by the Board in relation to this subject is needed, or expedient.”

Polygamy was practiced in Hawaii, one of the many places where the American Board sent missionaries.



Samuel Chapman Armstrong founded Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, in Virginia, in 1868. He “gathered about him a staff composed of broken-down classmates and war comrades, -- I was one of the lot,” wrote John H. Denison, his friend and colleague at Williams College, in The Atlantic (January 1894). Armstrong died at Hampton at age 54. He is buried there.


Samuel Chapman Armstrong, son of ABCFM missionaries in Hawaii

Born and raised in Hawaii, Samuel Chapman Armstrong (1839-1893), Williams Class of 1862, was the son of missionaries of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. After graduation from Williams in 1862 during the Civil War, Armstrong and many of his classmates enlisted in the Union Army, according to Encyclopedia Virginia. Armstrong commanded regiments in the United States Colored Troops. From 1866 to 1868, Armstrong served as assistant sub-commissioner of the Freedman’s Bureau in Virginia.

According to the 1910 Catalogue of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, the school was opened in April 1868 under the auspices of the American Missionary Association with General Armstrong in charge. “Although starting for the purpose of providing a practical education for the children of ex-slaves, the school in 1878 opened its doors to Indian pupils. “

After Booker T. Washington, who was born into slavery, graduated from Hampton and Wayland Seminary in Washington, D.C., Armstrong recommended him to head Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, according to Virginia Museum of History and Culture. Washington led Tuskegee for more than 30 years. He became a dominant voice of African Americans.

The Samuel Chapman Armstrong papers are a part of the Williams College Archives & Special Collections Repository.


The portrait of Ka’iulani, the last heir apparent to the throne of the Hawaiian Kingdom, was found in the papers of Samuel Chapman Armstrong.

“The photographs, letters, periodicals, documents, and ephemera found primarily in the collection of Samuel Chapman Armstrong offered a historical index of nineteenth-century Hawai’i," according to the exhibit on the links between Williams College and Hawaii.


Williams College’s Soul-Searching on Hawaii Links

Armstrong, whose father was appointed Minister of Public Instruction by Kamehameha III, attended Punahou School before he went to Williams College as did about a dozen other Williams alumni. The school first opened its doors to children of missionaries in 1842 but later broadened its student base. President Barack Obama (1979), the 44th U.S. president; Sun Yat-Sen (1883), the first provisional president of the Republic of China; Hawaiian Prince Kuhio (1889), who later became the representative of the Territory of Hawaii to the U.S. Congress, and John W. Gardner (1929), architect of Medicare, also attended the school in Honolulu.

In the autumn of 2018, Williams College carried out a soul-searching project of “its complicated, centuries-long relationship with the people of Hawai’i – including the role of Williams alumni in converting native Hawaiians to Christianity, in developing a written Hawaiian language, founding the Hawaiian plantation economy, and later overthrowing the Hawaiian monarchy, which was replaced by a republic first led by a Williams alumnus, Sanford B. Dole,” according to “The Field Is the World”: Williams, Hawai’i and Material Histories in the Making".

A box discovered in the basement of the dormitory, Fayerweather Hall, in August 1986, inspired the exhibit, conversations and research of The Field Is the World, a motto of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, which sent its first missionaries to India in 1812 on its own ship, the Caravan.

“By the time of its centenary in 1910, the Board was responsible for 102 mission stations and a missionary staff of 600 in India, Ceylon, West Central Africa (Angola), South Africa and Rhodesia, Asiatic and European Turkey, Four different regions in China, Japan, Micronesia, the Philippines, and the ‘Papal lands’ of Mexico, Spain and Austria. Missions to American Indians had come and gone; likewise a mission to Hawaii, where the church had achieved independence from the Board,” according to their ABCFM Archives at the Houghton Library, Harvard College Library.

“In (the box) were 64 objects – rocks, weapons, footwear, and objects we have yet to identify – collected a century and a half earlier for the Williams College Lyceum of Natural History, a student-run museum on campus from 1835-1908,” according to “The Field Is the World”: Williams, Hawai’i and Material Histories in the Making, Williams College Museum of Art (September 1, 2018 - December 21, 2018).

“The photographs, letters, periodicals, documents, and ephemera found primarily in the collection of Samuel Chapman Armstrong offered a historical index of nineteenth-century Hawai’i, from the rule of an internationally recognized Hawaiian monarchy to its overthrow by a provisional government that later named Sanford B. Dole (Class of 1867) as President of the Republic of Hawai’i.”

The exhibit elicited a spectrum of feelings from pain at the destruction of culture to delight at discovering verses in Hawaiian that had not been read in more than a century. The Haystack Monument at Williams on Mission Park Drive raised strong mixed reactions.

One museum-goer, identified as Speaker 4, disparaged Armstrong for describing himself as “uplifting a race” as “we think that his brand of “uplifting a race” is not to put African Americans in the contiguous U.S. on the same level, equal before the law, with Anglo and other white Americans, but to give them credibility in the eyes of the state for performing the same menial labor that they had done under slavery. . . . “

A central assumption of the 19th-century concept of “uplifting the race” was that the material and moral progress of African Americans would diminish white racism. However, the methods of uplifting the race were intensely contested, according to Uplifting the Race (1996).

Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois, two powerful leaders of the black community, held opposing philosophies.

Washington preached self-help, racial solidarity and accommodation to segregation, according to Public Broadcasting Service (PBS): Frontline (February 10, 1998). Born in Hale’s Ford near Roanoke, Virginia, Washington advocated education in the crafts, industrial and farming skills as well as development of the virtues of patience, enterprise and thrift.

Du Bois supported political action and a civil rights agenda. He helped found the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). In addition, a native of Great Barrington in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, said that social change could be accomplished by developing a group of college-educated blacks he called the Talented Tenth.

General Armstrong recalled the purpose of Hampton, according to the 1910 Catalogue of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute:

“The aim of Hampton was expressed by its founder, General Armstrong, in the following words. It is the same today.

“To train selected youth who shall go out and lead and teach their people, first by example by getting land and homes; to give them not a dollar that they can earn for themselves; to teach respect for labor; to replace stupid drudgery with skilled hands; and to these ends to build up an industrial system, for the sake not only of self-support and intelligent labor, but also for the sake of character.”


The Haystack Monument marks the spot where five students at Williams College, in Massachusetts, met for a prayer meeting in 1806 and were interrupted by a thunderstorm. The five sought shelter from lightning in a haystack and were struck by the impulse to form an organization for missionaries to preach abroad. Many scholars view the Haystack Prayer Meeting as the seminal event for the development of U.S. Protestant missions. The monument reads, The Field is the World. It features a haystack and the names of the five. The marble plinth holds a bronze globe.


How to Honor Complexity of Missionary Work

At The Field Is the World exhibit at Williams, Speaker 3 contemplated the Haystack Monument and missionary work:

“My thinking is not fixed. I don’t pretend to have any answers around this. I want to approach something because I’m a Christian and the tale of Christianity and missions is a part of my heritage. My Dad is a minister and was a missionary and I went to a school for missionary kids, so I have both some positive and many negative experiences about that. But how do you honor the complexity? And how do you know when a monument is serving oppression and when it is serving both good and telling a story of the past that is contested? I don’t know the answer.

“The question of Christianity and race and mission and colonialism is all in it together and, for some people, there are parts of that for whom that is really life-giving and the source of their faith and their joy. And for other people, as we’ve said, that’s the source of destruction, and death, and despair.”

Hyperallergic (November 21, 2018) interviewed Assistant Professor of Art Kailani Polzak, who co-curated the exhibit:

“Both of these rooms reflect on the ways histories are constructed and told, in particular, at different times in the past here at Williams. (The exhibit) is about the ways in which collecting and display have been wielded to impose intellectual, moral, or spiritual order on the world.”

Each of the 64 objects had an individual display case, which included an original label with “the original vague or incorrect information, with updated information handwritten next to it”.

Polzak said: “These modes of expertise can be questioned. The way we understand things is always an ongoing process. There is never a moment we are done – we are always relearning and reframing.”

Relearning and reframing, always.


Camp Nelson, in Kentucky, established as a U.S. Army fortified base, supply depot and hospital during the Civil War, became a major recruitment center and refugee camp. It had barracks for white soldiers, and tents and huts, like those on the left, for refugees, according to American Refugee Camp in Civil War Kentucky Destroyed (January 6, 2015). Hundreds of thousands of Americans became refuges during the war. Most were black.


Generals Armstrong and Howard

“I hope that until the slave, and every slave, can call himself his own, and his wife and children his own, the sword will not cease from among us; and I care not how many the evils that attend it – it will all be just. The above will do. I feel better,” Armstrong wrote after graduation from Williams College to his friend and colleague, John H. Denison.

“Thrown in with General (Oliver Otis) Howard, (Samuel Chapman) Armstrong was led by the influence of that philanthropist to take charge of the Freedmen’s Bureau at Hampton, Virginia,” according to Denison, who lived in East College dormitory at Williams in 1860, in his 10-page homage to his friend, Sam Armstrong, in The Atlantic (January 1894).

“Some ten thousand black refugees were there huddled together, mostly in wretched hovels, on confiscated land. The United States government issued them rations, the American Missionary Association sent them missionaries.”

In its beginnings, the American Board Commission for Foreign Missions had sponsored mission settlements among a number of Native American tribes, including the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Creek, Pawnee, Nez Perce and Sioux, reported Punahou (October 9, 2021).

The battle to establish the Freedmen’s Bureau and then to extend the legislation one year later was a major factor in the struggle between President Andrew Johnson, Abraham Lincoln’s successor after the assassination, and Radical Republicans in Congress over Reconstruction and the role of the federal government in integrating the newly emancipated slaves into the nation’s political life, according to the United States Senate.

The Freedmen’s Bureau Act of 1866 extended the work of the agency for two more years.

After serving as president of Howard University and being cleared of financial wrongdoing by a federal Court of Inquiry, the general commanded troops in the Indian Wars in the West after 1874, conducting an infamous campaign to move the Nez Perce in Idaho and Montana territories in 1877, to a reservation with the resultant surrender of the iconic Chief Joseph.


General Howard wrote in Nez Perce Joseph: An Account of His Ancestors, His Lands, His Confederates, His Enemies, His Murders, His War, His Pursuit and Capture (1881) :

“It is difficult to explain the almost uniform injustice which the American people have practiced toward the Indians. I do not believe that we are worse than the French, the Spanish, or than our English neighbors in British Columbia, though surely we can nearly match the massacre of St. Bartholomew, the cruelties of the Inquisition, or the ferocity of London rioters, in our dealings with the red men.

"I am inclined to believe the jar to be in our unadjustable system, which like a machine built upon a springy soil, is perpetually out of gear. Our fathers, finding the Indians here, and being disposed to peace, first recognized in them the right of occupancy of the lands. This recognized right the Indians have always misunderstood. They have believed it to mean much more than simple occupancy.” (Photo by Hertzler & Feltner of Carlisle, Pa. , in 1904, at Carlisle Indian Industrial School, where Olympic gold medalist, Jim Thorpe, would begin his athletic career in 1907)


In 1904, 27 years after the Nez Perce War, Chief Joseph and General Howard sat side by side at commencement ceremonies of Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Pennsylvania, where the audience witnessed a powerful rapprochement between the men.

“As (General Howard) recited the wrongs done to the Nez Perces, tears unbidden sprang to his eyes – he ceased speaking abruptly and sat down, overcome by his emotion,” reported The Tacoma Times (March 5, 1904). “When General Howard’s remarks called up remembrance of the past, tears welled into Joseph’s eyes. Upon taking his seat, General Howard had thrust his left hand into that of his old-time enemy, who grasped it.”


After being found guilty for doing himself injuries at West Point, Johnson Chestnut Whittaker became an educator and lawyer. He taught Ralph Ellison, author of the classic, Invisible Man, at Douglass High School in Oklahoma City.


In 1880, President Rutherford B. Hayes sought Howard for advice on an alleged assault of one of the first black students at the white institution, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the general’s alma mater. Howard assumed the post of Superintendent at the school on the Hudson River, New York, for two years.

Johnson Chestnut Whittaker had been found with his arms and legs tied to his bed, unconscious, bleeding, and bruised. His hands and face had been cut by a razor, and burned pages from his Bible were strewn about his room. Whittaker told school administrators that he had been attacked by three fellow cadets.

“I said at once (to President Hayes) that I should advise taking the case away from West Point, where the social prejudice was strong against a negro cadet. I suggested the yielding to his desire to have a regular court-martial and to locate the court in New York,” the general wrote in his Autobiography of Oliver Otis Howard, major general, United States army: volume 2 (1908).

“Whittaker had an able lawyer, a young colored man by the name of (Richard) Greener (Harvard College’s first black graduate in 1870), who was defending him and who was very strongly of the opinion that Whittaker was innocent of any attempt at fraud or deceit. The case was tried in New York as I recommended, and the young man was pronounced guilty of doing himself the injuries in view of putting his cadet comrades in a bad light. He was convicted and sentenced to be discharged the service. On review the President, permitting the young man to tender his resignation, remitted the sentence.”

President Bill Clinton formally cleared Whittaker’s name in July 1995, when the president posthumously commissioned him 60 years after his death.

After West Point, Whittaker became an educator and lawyer. After West Point, Whittaker became an educator and lawyer. From 1908 to 1925, he served as teacher and principal at Douglass High School in Oklahoma City, where one of his students was Ralph Ellison, author of Invisible Man, who went on to Tuskegee, according to South Carolina Encyclopedia.

Born into slavery on the Chestnut Plantation in Camden, South Carolina, Whittaker attended a Freedmen Bureau’s school in his home state, according to American Heritage (August 1971). Richard Greener, the Harvard College graduate, also tutored him.

In 1999, Clinton pardoned Henry Ossian Flipper, the fifth African American to receive an appointment to West Point and the first to graduate in 1873, according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia. In 1881, while stationed at Fort Davis, Texas, he was framed by white officers and charged with embezzlement. At his court-martial, he was found guilty, not of embezzlement, but of “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman”. Flipper was dishonorably discharged from the military. He wrote The Colored Cadet at West Point. Autobiography of Lieut. Henry Ossian Flipper, U.S.A., First Graduate of Color From the U.S. Military Academy (1878).

After West Point, Flipper worked as a mining engineer and a land surveyor. Born into slavery in Thomasville, Thomas County, Georgia, Flipper was educated by the American Missionary Association. He attended Atlanta University (now Atlanta Clark University), one of the organization’s chartered schools.

By establishing schools, the American Missionary Society, the Freedmen’s Bureau and other groups and individuals strived to overcome the physical and spiritual vestiges of slavery. They had hope of achieving respect between former slaves and former slaveowners so that, one day, the two could break bread together at the same table. That hope cannot be discounted today.

In Lift Every Voice and Sing, which became known as the Negro National Anthem, James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) wrote:

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,

Sing a song full of hope that the present has brought us.

Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,

Let us march on till victory is won.

Johnson graduated from Atlanta University.

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