Wilberforce University
MottoSuo Marte
Motto in EnglishBy one’s own toil, effort, courage
TypePrivate, HBCU
Religious affiliationAfrican Methodist Episcopal Church
PresidentPatrica Hardaway
LocationWilberforce, Ohio,
United States
ColorsGreen and Gold
AffiliationsAmerican Mideast Conference

Wilberforce University is a private, coed, liberal arts historically black university (HBCU) located in Wilberforce, Ohio. Affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, it was the first college to be owned and operated by African Americans. It participates in the United Negro College Fund.

The founding of the college was unique as a collaboration in 1856 by the Cincinnati, Ohio Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). They planned a college to provide classical education and teacher training for black youth. Leaders of both races made up the first board members.

When the number of students fell due to the American Civil War and financial losses closed the college, in 1863 the AME Church purchased the institution to ensure its survival. Its first president, AME Bishop Daniel A. Payne, was one of the original founders. Prominent supporters and the US government donated funds for rebuilding after a fire in 1865. When the college added an industrial department in the late 19th century, state legislators could sponsor scholarship students.

The college attracted the top professors of the day, including W. E. B. Du Bois. In the 19th century, it enlarged its mission to include students from South Africa. The university supports the national Association of African American Museums to broaden the reach of its programs and assist smaller museums with professional standards.


Cooperative educationEdit

Wilberforce requires all students to participate in cooperative education[1] to meet graduation requirements. The cooperative program places students in internships that provide practical experience in addition to academic training.

NASA SEMAA projectEdit

In October 2006, Wilberforce held the grand opening and dedication for the NASA Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academy (SEMAA) and the associated Aerospace Education Laboratory (AEL). It was attended by Dr. Bernice G. Alston, deputy assistant administrator of NASA’s office of Education, and the Honorable David L. Hobson, U.S. Representative from Ohio's 7th congressional district.[2]

NASA’s program is designed to provide training in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to underprivileged students to support NASA’s future needs. There are 17 NASA SEMAA project sites through the United States. Through this partnership, Wilberforce will offer training sessions for students in grades K-12 during the academic year and during the summer. The AEL is computerized classroom that provided technology to students in grades 7–12 that supports the SEMAA training sessions.


Located three miles (5 km) from Xenia, Ohio in the southwestern part of the state, the founding of Wilberforce University was a collaboration among leaders of the Cincinnati Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Church. They planned to promote classical education and teacher training for black youth. Among the first 24 members of the Board of Trustees in 1855 were Bishop Daniel A. Payne, Rev. Lewis Woodson and Messrs. Ishmael Keith and Alfred Anderson, all of the AME Church.[3] Also on the Board were Salmon P. Chase, then Governor of Ohio and a strong supporter of abolition; a member of the Ohio State Legislature, and other Methodist leaders from the white community. They named the college after the British abolitionist and statesman, William Wilberforce.[4]

As a base for the college, the Cincinnati Conference bought a hotel, cottages and 54 acres (220,000 m2) of a resort property, named Tawawa Springs after a Shawnee word for "clear or golden water". European Americans had founded the health resort because of the springs, which historically the Native Americans had long used. Because of its location, the resort attracted summer people from both Cincinnati and the South. Some people in this area of abolitionist sentiment were shocked when wealthy Southern planters arrived at the resort with their entourages of enslaved or free African-American mistresses and mixed-race "natural" (illegitimate) children.[5]

Given migration patterns, this was also an area where numerous free blacks settled, many having moved across the Ohio River from the South for better living conditions. Xenia had quite a large free black population, as did other towns in southwestern Ohio, such as Chillicothe, Yellow Springs and Zanesville. Free blacks and anti-slavery white supporters used houses in the town as stations on the Underground Railroad in the years before the war. Wilberforce College also supported freedom-seeking slaves.

The college opened for classes in 1856, and by 1858 its trustees selected Rev. Richard S. Rust as the first President.[4] By 1860 the university had more than 200 students.[6] Most were from the South rather than Ohio or northern states. They were the "natural" mixed-race sons and daughters of wealthy white planters and their African-American mistresses.[7] The fathers paid for the education denied their children in the South.[5] They were among the fathers who did not abandon their mixed-race children but provided them with the social capital of education. The outbreak of Civil War threatened the college's finances. Not only were Methodist church resources diverted, but the southern planters withdrew their children, and no more paying students came from the South. The college closed temporarily in 1862 when the Cincinnati Methodist Church was unable to fully fund it.[5]

Led by Bishop Daniel Payne, in 1863 the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) decided to buy the college to ensure its survival; they paid the cost of its debt.[8] Founders were Bishop Payne, who was selected as its first President; James A. Shorter, pastor of the AME Church in Zanesville and future bishop; and Dr. John G. Mitchell, principal of the Eastern District Public School of Cincinnati. Payne was the first African American to become a college president in the United States.

When an arson fire damaged some of the buildings in 1865, Salmon P. Chase, then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, and Dr. Charles Avery from Pittsburgh each contributed $10,000 to rebuild the college. Mary E. Monroe, another white supporter, contributed $4200. The US Congress approved a $25,000 grant for the college, which raised additional monies privately from a wide range of donors.[9]

In 1888 the AME Church came to an agreement with the Republican-dominated state legislature that brought considerable financial support and political patronage to the college. It negotiated contemporary pressures to emphasize industrial education for many black youth by accommodating both that and the classical education. As an act of political patronage, the state legislature established a commercial, normal and industrial (CNI) department at Wilberforce College. While this created complications for administration and questions about the mission of the college, in the near term it brought tens of thousands of dollars annually in state aid to the campus. Each state legislator could award an annual scholarship to the CNI department at Wilberforce, enabling hundreds of African American students to attend classes. The state-funded students could complete liberal arts at the college, and students at Wilberforce could also take "industrial" classes. By the mid-1890s, the college also admitted students from South Africa, as part of the AME Church's mission to Africa. The church helped support such students with scholarships, as well as arranging board with local families.[5]

The college became a center of black cultural and intellectual life in southwestern Ohio. Because the area did not receive many European immigrants, blacks had more opportunities at diverse work. Xenia and nearby towns developed a professional elite.[5]

Generations of leaders: teachers, ministers, doctors, politicians and presidents of other colleges, and later men and women of all occupations, have been educated at the university. In the 19th century, Bishop Payne established his dream, a theological seminary, which was named in his honor. Top-ranking scholars taught at the college, including W.E.B. DuBois, the philologist William S. Scarborough, Edward Clarke, and John G. Mitchell, dean of the seminary. In 1894 Lieutenant Charles Young, the third black graduate of West Point and then the only African-American commissioned officer in the US Army, led the newly established military science department. Additional leading scholars taught at the college in the early 20th century, such as the politician, theologian and missionary Theophilus Gould Steward and the sociologist Richard R. Wright, Jr., the first African American to earn a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. He was a future AME bishop and president of Wilberforce. These men were prominent in the American Negro Academy, founded in 1897 to support the work of scholars, writers and other intellectuals.[5] In 1969 the organization was revived as the Black Academy of Arts and Letters.

Growth of the university after the mid-20th century led to construction of a new campus in 1967, located one mile (1.6 km) away. In 1974, the area was devastated by part of the Super Outbreak tornado storm, which destroyed much of the city of Xenia and the old campus of Wilberforce.

Older campus buildings still in use include the Carnegie Library, built in 1909 with matching funds from the Carnegie Foundation, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places; Shorter Hall, built in 1922; and the Charles Leander Hill Gymnasium, built in 1958. The former residence of Charles Young near Wilberforce was designated a National Historic Landmark, in recognition of his significant and groundbreaking career in the US Army.

In the 1970s, the university established the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center, to provide exhibits and outreach to the region. It is now operated by the Ohio Historical Society. The university supports the national Association of African American Museums, to provide support especially to smaller museums across the country.

Financial aid auditEdit

In 2008 the US Department of Education, Office of the Inspector General (OIG) completed an audit of financial management, specifically the university's management of Title IV funds, which related to its work-study program. For the two-year audit period (2004–2005, 2005–2006) the audit found numerous faults.[10] In summary, the OIG found:

"The University did not comply with the Title IV, HEA program requirements because it was not administratively capable. During the audit period, the University experienced significant staff turnover and lacked sufficient financial aid staff, failed to develop and implement written policies and procedures, did not maintain all records needed to demonstrate compliance with the HEA and applicable regulations, and did not ensure sufficient communication between the financial aid office and all other institutional offices at the University."

Past university presidentsEdit


Student activitiesEdit


Wilberforce University teams, nicknamed athletically as the Bulldogs, are part of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), primarily competing as an Independent of the Association of Independent Institutions (AII). The Bulldogs formerly competed as members of the American Mideast Conference. Men's sports include basketball and cross country; while women's sports include basketball and cross country.

Students also participate in the following intramural sports: basketball, softball, volleyball, flag football, and tennis.

NPHC OrganizationsEdit

All nine of the National Pan-Hellenic Council organizations currently have chapters at Wilberforce University. These organizations are:

Organization Symbol Chapter Chapter Symbol
Alpha Kappa Alpha ΑΚΑ Zeta Z
Alpha Phi Alpha ΑΦΑ Xi Ξ
Delta Sigma Theta ΔΣΘ Beta B
Iota Phi Theta ΙΦΘ Alpha Iota AI
Kappa Alpha Psi ΚΑΨ Delta Δ
Omega Psi Phi ΩΨΦ Upsilon Υ
Phi Beta Sigma ΦΒΣ Alpha Alpha A.A.
Sigma Gamma Rho ΣΓΡ Kappa K
Zeta Phi Beta ΖΦΒ Gamma Epsilon ΓΕ

Notable alumniEdit

Name Class year Notability References
Victoria Gray Adams pioneering civil rights activist
Regina M. Anderson playwright, librarian, and member of the Harlem Renaissance
Helen Elsie Austin 1938 U.S. Foreign Service Officer
Myron (Tiny) Bradshaw American jazz and rhythm and blues bandleader, singer, pianist, and drummer
Hallie Quinn Brown 1873 educator, writer and activist
Charity Adams Earley first African American woman to be an officer in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps and was the commanding officer of the first battalion of African American women to serve overseas during WWII.
Floyd H. Flake U.S. Congressman, Wilberforce-President
Frank Foster (musician) American musician; member of the Count Basie Orchestra
John R. Fox Recipient of the Medal of Honor
Raymond V. Haysbert business executive and civil rights leader
Gilbert Haven Jones 1902 the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from a German university, and also the first African American with a Ph.D. to teach psychology in the United States
Leon Jordan 1932 politician and civil rights activist, who is considered one of the most influential African-Americans in the history of Kansas City, Missouri
James H. McGee city commissioner and first African-American mayor of Dayton, Ohio
Arnett "Ace" Mumford 1924 former college football coach at Southern University from 1936 to 1961. He also coached at Jarvis Christian College, Bishop College, Texas College. Member of College Football Hall of Fame
Demetrius Powers 2005 Software Architect
Leontyne Price Opera singer and first African-American prima donna of the Metropolitan Opera
George Russell American jazz composer and theorist
William Grant Still composer and conductor: the first African American to conduct a major American orchestra, the first to have a symphony performed by a leading orchestra, and the first to have an opera performed by a major opera company
Theophilus Gould Steward 1881 U.S. Army chaplain and Buffalo Soldier
Ossian Sweet African-American doctor notable for self-defense in 1925 against a white mob's attempt to force him out of his Detroit neighborhood, and acquittal at trial.
Ben Webster American jazz musician
William Julius Wilson American sociologist and Harvard University professor
Milton Wright 1926 Economist
Mark Wilson 1982 entrepreneur

See also Edit


  1. "Wilberforce University: Yesterday and Today". Wiberforce University. Retrieved January 1, 2007.
  2. "NASA Education Facility Opens at Wilberforce University". National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Archived from the original on November 16, 2006. Retrieved January 1, 2007.
  3. Campbell (1995), Songs of Zion, p. 263
  4. 4.0 4.1 Talbert, Horace (2000). "The Sons of Allen: Together with a Sketch of the Rise and Progress of Wilberforce University, Wilberforce, Ohio 1906". Documenting the South. University of North Carolina. pp. 264–265, 273. Retrieved July 25, 2008.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 James T. Campbell, Songs of Zion, New York: Oxford University Press, 1995, pp. 259–260, accessed Jan 13, 2009
  6. Talbert (1906), Sons of Allen, p. 267
  7. Talbert (1906), Sons of Allen, p. 267
  8. Campbell (1995), Songs of Zion, p. 263
  9. Horace Talbert, The Sons of Allen: Together with a Sketch of the Rise and Progress of Wilberforce University, Wilberforce, Ohio, 1906, p. 273, Documenting the South, 2000, University of North Carolina, accessed Jul 25, 2008
  10. "Wilberforce University’s Administration of the Title IV, Higher Education Act Programs: Final Audit Report" (PDF).
  11. "Library". Wilberforce University. Retrieved March 24, 2010.

External linksEdit

Template:Colleges and Universities Affiliated With The African Methodist Episcopal Church

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