African American Trailblazers in Higher Education
Black History Month is a time to honor the achievements of African Americans and their significant impact on the United States, including equal access to higher education.
These achievements would not have been possible without African American trailblazers, like those featured below, who broke higher education barriers despite enormous odds.
Alexander Lucius Twilight
In 1823, Alexander Lucius Twilight became the first known African American to graduate from a college in the United States when he received a B.A. from Middlebury College in Vermont. After leaving Middlebury, Twilight was ordained as a Congregational minister and worked in education throughout his career. Graduating college was not Twilight’s only first. In 1836 he was the first African American elected as a state legislator, serving in the Vermont House of Representatives. (Source: Middlebury College)
Mary Jane Patterson
Mary Jane Patterson became the first, African American woman to earn a bachelor’s degree when she graduated from Oberlin College in 1862. She went onto serve as the first, Black principal of Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. During her tenure, the school grew from less than 50 to 172 students, and a teacher-training department was created. (Source: African American Registry)
Mary Ann Shadd Cary
In 1869, Mary Ann Shadd Cary became the first, Black woman student to enroll at Howard University’s law department. She did not graduate until 1884 at the age of 61 but was recognized as one of the country’s first, Black female lawyers. She spent her life fighting for civil rights for African Americans and women. Shadd and her family were also involved in the Underground Railroad. (Source: National Park Service)
Inman Page was born into slavery in Virginia in 1853 and is believed to be the first Black person to be elected student body president at any of the nation’s predominantly White universities. Inman became a renowned leader in higher education, serving as the President of four colleges, including the Lincoln Institute, Langston University, Western University, and Roger Williams University. (Source: Oklahoma Historical Society)
William Henry Lewis
In 1892, William Henry Lewis was one of the first, African American football players and was named the first, Black All-American athlete for his accomplishments at Amherst College. After attending Harvard Law School, Lewis became the first, African American to be selected as an Assistant United States Attorney, and in 1910 he was the first to be appointed as one of the five United States Assistant Attorneys General. (Source: Harvard Magazine)
During this year’s Black History Month, we celebrate and recognize these individuals’ perseverance showcasing that change is possible and that we can take concrete steps to achieve equity in education.