February 07, 2011
As an amateur gardener, I have learned that the roots of plants are extremely important. We all know that roots anchor a plant. Maybe more importantly, roots give it structure and transfer essential water and nutrients to the plant for its survival. It is hard to imagine a healthy plant that does not have a solid root foundation. For some plants, the longer and deeper their root systems are, the more they benefit other living creatures by producing food, oxygen, and reducing the toxic carbon dioxide in our environment.
In 1977, many American families watched the television mini-series made from Alex Haley’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, Roots. In an unprecedented eight-episodes, Haley shared a dramatization of his ancestors’ lives since leaving Africa until his own successful quest to discover his African roots. I was one of those people glued to my television set to watch what an amazing story of an American family’s trials, tribulations, and triumphs. What I remember most about the series was the interest in genealogy that it spurred for many Americans.
As we move through another Black History month, soon to be followed by Women’s History month, it occurs to me that what is most important about these months is that they furnish an opportunity for us to help all Americans to anchor themselves (and to receive essential nutrients) by learning about the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of their own ancestors. Learning our own family’s genealogy can help us develop a new understanding of the factors that shape who we are.
Thus, it is extremely important that the students, faculty, and staff of Cheyney University learn the history of this institution that is entering its 175th year of life in America.
At 915 Bainbridge Street in Philadelphia, PA, there is a historical marker dedicated in 1991, commemorating the Institute for Colored Youth. On the website PAhistory.com, it chronicles some highlights of the Institute of Colored Youth that was founded in 1837 by the philanthropy of Richard Humphreys and the dedication of the Society of Friends.
The historical marker website states, “Humphreys’ $10,000 bequest helped to establish the Quaker-controlled African Institute, which by the time it opened on a farm outside the city in 1840 had been renamed the Institute for Colored Youth. Initially devoted to orphan boys, by 1866 the school was coeducational, with an expanded curriculum and a new residence at Bainbridge and Ninth in the city. Some authorities claim this early history gives present-day Cheyney University the right to be called the oldest historically black institution college in America.”
Even though the Institute might have been started to help improve the literacy, industrial arts, and vocational training of persons of African descent in Philadelphia, by the 1880’s the Institute attracted talented faculty and students. According to historical accounts, the first official principal of the Institute was Charles L. Reason. Prior to coming to the Institute, Mr. Reason had served as the first African American to hold a professorship at the integrated New York Central College in New York. However, Charles Reason resigned in 1852 in order to become the first principal of the Institute, and he served from 1852 to 1856.
It was the third principal of the Institute of Colored Youth, Fanny Jackson Coppin who is credited in some historical accounts for expanding the classical curriculum (Latin, Greek, higher mathematics, industrial arts, and teacher education) and raising the profile of the Institute for Colored Youth. After graduating from Oberlin College in 1865, Ms. Fanny Jackson Coppin came to head the girl’s division; she later became principal of the Institute, when the second principal Ebenezer Bassett, who had served as principal for fourteen years, was appointed United States Minister to Haiti by President Grant.
Ms. Fanny Jackson Coppin was the first African-American principal in America, and she served as the principal from 1869 to 1902.
According to PAhistory.com, “The foundation laid in the nineteenth century served the Institute well in the twentieth. Over the next half century a veritable who's who of notable African-American leaders and public intellectuals visited the campus. Booker T. Washington, Carter G. Woodson, Mary Church Terrell, and Mary McLeod Bethune all gave commencement addresses. W.E.B. Du Bois spoke at least three times over a quarter century's time, and a distinguished lecture series was named in his honor. In more recent decades, historian John Hope Franklin, Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan, actor and activist Bill Cosby, and former President Jimmy Carter have addressed the student body of the institution known since 1983 as Cheyney University.”
In her memoirs, published posthumously in 1913, Reminiscences of School Life, and Hints of Teaching, Ms. Fanny Jackson Coppin lists numerous distinguished graduates of the Institute for Color Youth. Among these graduates are:
- Rebecca J. Cole who was a graduate of the class of 1863, who studied medicine at the Woman’s Medical College in Philadelphia and experienced a long career in practicing medicine.
- Pliny I. Locke—graduated from the Institute in 1867, taught mathematics, and later obtained a law degree from Howard University. Pliny Locke is the father of Alain Locke, the noted Harvard graduate who served as an educator, writer, and philosopher.
- James M. Baxter—graduated in 1864 at age 18 and moved to Newark, N.J. to become principal of a colored high school shortly thereafter (during the Civil War). Mr. Baxter was the first African-American principal in Newark, New Jersey. He served in the position so well and for so long (45 years), that the school became popularly known as “Mr. Baxter’s School.”
- William Adger—graduated from the Institute with Honors in 1875. He became the first African America to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania in 1883 with a B.A. degree. Unfortunately, Mr. Adger only lived from 1856 to 1885.
As we prepare for the 175th anniversary of Cheyney University, it is important to acknowledge the historical foundations of this venerable institution, and to look forward to its continued contributions of access, opportunity and excellence into the 22nd Century.
(retrieved from http://explorepahistory.com/hmarker.php?markerId=1135 on January 29, 2011); Fanny Jackson Coppin, Reminiscences of School Life, and Hints on Teaching, can be downloaded at http://worid-of-books.com/?id=Gn8sAQAAIAAJ; (http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/02/newark_urban_renewal_project_b.html)
P R E V I O U S P O S T S
- President's Blog - April 2013 - CU Transforming to Produce A Quality Education for the 21st Century
- President's Blog - March 2013 - Our Daughters and The Broadening of The Talented Tenth
- President's Blog--January 2013--Our Collective Action is Required
- President's Blog - February 2013 - Helping Others Reach Their Potential
- Thoughts for a Really New Year
- HBCUs – A Village of Choice for Some
- Cheyney University – 175 Years of Access, Opportunity, and Excellence
- A Fork in the Road ...
- The Unleveled Playing Field
- 100 Black Men: Fathers and Husbands Working for A Better Tomorrow
A R C H I V E
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- February 2011
- January 2011
- December 2010
- November 2010
- October 2010
- September 2010
- August 2010
- July 2010
- June 2010
- May 2010
- April 2010
- March 2010
- February 2010
- January 2010
- November 2009
- October 2009
- September 2009
B L O G S B Y T A G175th, 21st century, 21st Century graduates, access, achievement gap, alumni, athletic hall of fame, athletics hall of fame, BBBS, Bennett College for Women, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Bill Cosby, black history, black males, blog, Bond Hill, budget cuts, butterfly effect, Call Me MISTER, centers of excellence, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, City Year, college, college board, commencement, cost of higher education, education, education challenges, education crisis, educational enterprise, excellence, fall, featured, Gaston Caperton, giving back, global citizens, graduating seniors, Haiti, hall of fame, Harrisburg, healthcare, heroines, homecoming, homecoming 2010, human rights, Humphrey Scholars, Humphrey’s Hall, Inaugural Speech, intellectual capital, James Dumpson, Keystone Honors Program, legacy, legacy breakfast, life long learning, Mayor Nutter, Michael Nutter, Michelle Howard-Vital, Michelle R. Howard-Vital, minority males, NEED, negro educational emergency drive, opportunity, pathways to excellence, president, President, President Barak Obama, President Michelle R. Howard-Vital, President's blog, President's Blog, renovations, residence hall, retirement, Rose-Anne Auguste, scholarships, social media, strategic plan, student engagement activities, student organizations, study abroad, Sylvester Pace, teachers, thanksgiving, The Bond, The Pact, The Talented Tenth, The Three Doctors, transformation, transition, university college, Vital, Vivian Stringer, W.E.B.Dubois, We Beat The Streets, welcome, women history month, youth