The first African American colleges emerged in the 1830s and aimed to provide an education for liberated slaves. These colleges were formed by the initiatives of various entities, including Quaker philanthropists, African American religious philanthropists, northern religious mission societies and African Americans who sought an education. To date, more than 100 Historically Black Colleges and Universities exist in the United States, providing African American students with an education, community and heritage.

The Nation's First Black College

While some free African Americans attended predominantly white colleges in the North during the antebellum era, educational opportunities in the South were rare. A Quaker philanthropist, Richard Humphreys, founded the nation’s first black college, the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia, in 1837. This teacher training college, which became known as Cheyney University, initially furnished only elementary and high school level courses.

Lincoln University and Wilberforce University

Founded in 1854 by an act of the Pennsylvania legislature, the Ashmun Institute offered a higher education in the arts and sciences to male African Americans. In honor of President Abraham Lincoln, the institution was renamed Lincoln University in 1866. Located in Chester County, Lincoln has educated about 10 percent of the African American lawyers and 20 percent of the African American doctors in the U.S., according to the PBS website. Known as the first black college with an African American president, Wilberforce University was founded in 1856 in Ohio. Playing a notable part in the Underground Railroad, Wilberforce views education as the route to freedom.

Hampton University

The U.S. Congress passed the Morrill Act of 1862, which established land-grant colleges funded by taxes. Along with an expanding system of state colleges, these institutions underscored the American style of public education that serves a wide range of students. The Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, founded in 1868 by an act of the General Assemble of Virginia, provided an education to liberated slaves and subsequently opened its admissions to Native Americans. In 1928, launched a graduate program.

Growth of Private Institutions

Despite the Morrill Act of 1862, many states found ways to exclude African Americans from publicly funded colleges. To fill the void, religious missions and African American religious philanthropists founded black colleges and universities. Established in New Orleans, Dillard University is a faith-based college that has been providing African Americans with a liberal arts education since 1869. In 1910, North Carolina Central University began as the National Religious Training School. Morehouse College opened its doors in 1867 in Georgia, providing a liberal arts education for African American men and training students for ministry. Other notable black colleges founded during this period are Fisk University based in Nashville, which is known for its Jubilee Singers, and Howard University in Washington, D.C., which trained African American teachers to educate the 4 million free slaves.

Co-educational Colleges

Since their inception in the late 1800s, some of the historically black colleges were co-educational. Founded in 1879 in North Carolina, Livingstone College offers bachelors of art, science and social work degrees as well as a graduate degree from the Hood Theological Seminary. The Livingstone curriculum blends Christian faith with technology, African American culture and community service. Also located in North Carolina, Bennett College opened its doors in 1873 as a co-educational institution. Affiliated with the United Methodist church, Bennett has emphasized the education of African American women since 1926.

Colleges for Women

Founded in 1881 as the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary in Georgia, Spelman College offered an education to liberated African American women slaves. The institution began in the basement of a church, with 11 students who wanted to compose letters to relatives in the North and read the Bible.