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Oklahoma Memories

Bill Passed Allowing for the Creation of a Black College (Langston) February 26, 1916

2010-02-22

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It seems that for most of us the existence of colleges and universities is taken for granted; we just expect such institutions to be there for us. For much of the population of early-day Oklahoma Territory, however, there was no option for higher education. Join us this week in our last installment celebrating Black History Month, as we explore the beginnings of Langston University on Oklahoma Memories from the Oklahoma History Center. I'm Michael Dean.

Almost with the opening of the first land run, plans were made to create institutions of higher learning in Oklahoma Territory. Oklahoma A and M College in Stillwater, followed by other public schools of higher education as well as a number of private schools, opened shortly after territorial settlement began. By 1892, however, there was still no higher education option for the African-American community. State law prohibited blacks and whites from attending the same school facilities, therefore, in order to comply with the very laws that they had created, it would be necessary for the legislature to provide funds to build a completely separate facility for those black citizens wanting to continue their education past high school.

It was in this week of 1896 that the state legislature, at the request of influential blacks within the state, approved the necessary funding for the construction of a black institution of higher learning at Langston, Oklahoma Territory. However, stated the legislature, the land would have to be paid for by the citizens. For one year the residents of Langston and surrounding communities held bake sales, pie suppers, auctions and other events with all of the proceeds going towards the purchase of land for their new college. By 1898 the land was purchased and construction started. Prior to the actual structure, classes for the new school were held in a Presbyterian Church.

According to documents provided by the school the purpose of the institution was to instruct male and female colored persons in the art of teaching common and higher education in the agricultural, mechanical and industrial arts. The first president of the institution Dr. Inman Page, the son of a former slave, expanded the original eighty acres into one hundred sixty acres, and the school continues to grow and thrive today. In 1941 the name was officially changed to Langston University. Both the town and school derive their name from Virginian John Mercer Langston, a black proponent of higher education active during the late 19th century. Langston University gets the legislative go ahead this week in 1896.

You can learn more about the African-Americans who've made major contributions to our state by visiting the Realizing the Dream exhibit at the Oklahoma History Center, NE 23rd Street just east of the state capitol in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Memories is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to the collection, preservation, and sharing of our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.