Looking at the history behind Langston University

Mike Seals - February 22, 2021 11:17 pm

Langston is Oklahoma’s only HBCU

by Perris Jones

About 40 miles north of Oklahoma City in rural Logan County sits a college campus surrounded by pastures and farmland. But there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Langston University is Oklahoma’s first and only HBCU – with nearly 3,000 students across its three campuses in Oklahoma and with 40 undergrad and graduate degree programs.

“And we are named after John Mercer Langston. A lot of people ask if we are named after Langston Hughes. No. This is Langston Hughes’ uncle,” said Lynne Simpson, the dean and director of libraries at Langston University.

Simpson told KOCO 5 that what you see at Langston University today is the culmination of hard work and the dreams of former slaves and their children.

So, how did Langston University start?

“It’s an interesting story to think about the Black town movement in the state of Oklahoma. Langston is a part of that movement,” Simpson said. “Langston University came about because the people in the town of Langston who came here – you have to think about the period of time, it was pre-statehood – they were either former slaves or one generation from being former slaves.

“They came to the state of Oklahoma because Oklahoma had the great prospect of African Americans being able to own property.”

But Simpson said owning property wasn’t enough. Those who settled in Langston wanted more for their children – an education.

In 1892, Langston citizens went before the Oklahoma Industrial School and College Commission, petitioning for Langston to have a college.

“Their children were not allowed to go to the white universities, colleges in the state,” Simpson said. “So, they said, ‘What do we have to do to make it so our children have a place to go?’”

Their efforts would pay off a few years later when the governor of the Oklahoma territory proposed a reform bill establishing the university. It was founded as a land grant college through the Morrill Act of 1890, and was officially established through House Bill 151 on March 12, 1897 – named the Colored Agricultural and Normal University.

But the state wouldn’t make it easy. One roadblock was a requirement that citizens had to raise the money to buy the land where the university would be.

“They sold baked goods like pies and cakes,” Simpson said. “They had to work with each other and say, ‘OK, I’ll give this much of my property or that much of my property.’”

Within a year, they managed to buy the land. The school opened in September 1898 and started out with about 41 students.

“And this was the first building at Langston University, this Presbyterian church,” Simpson said.

Over time, the university has gone through some name changes, and adapted with the times to prepare its students for the workforce – something those settlers in one of Oklahoma’s earliest and remaining Black towns envisioned over a century ago.

Since then, Langston University alumni have gone on to become civil rights leaders, state lawmakers, university presidents, professional athletes and much more.

Langston University also has been recognized as a top 100 school for nursing – the first institution in Oklahoma to offer an accredited Doctor of Physical Therapy Program – and ranks No. 3 among HBCUs in affordability.

 

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