Lincoln University is located in southern Chester County, four miles north of Oxford, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1854, the university is the oldest extant black institution of higher learning in the United States. The university was founded by John Miller Dickey, a white senior pastor of the Oxford Presbyterian Church. Before founding Lincoln University, Dickey had shown concern for the welfare of African Americans. In 1850 he contributed decisively to the liberation of two sisters, Rachel and Elizabeth Parker, who had been kidnapped in Oxford for sale into slavery. Dickey also supported the American Colonization Society and felt that emancipated Africans should return to the African continent as missionaries. In 1852 Dickey made unsuccessful attempts to place James Ralston Amos, an African American and the treasurer of the fund for "Negro Church" building established by Richard Allen in 1794, into Princeton University Seminary and also at a religious academy managed by the Presbyterian Synod of Philadelphia. Frustrated by a failed effort to secure admission for a "colored" student in a "white" institution, Dickey sought a solution in establishing an institution for "colored" men.
The institution Dickey established was originally chartered by the state of Pennsylvania as Ashmun Institute, named in honor of Jehudi Ashmun, the first governor of Liberia. After the Civil War and in recognition of the role that President Abraham Lincoln played in the emancipation of the enslaved, Ashmun Institute was renamed Lincoln University. The educational curriculum was originally conceived to include not only all aspects of liberal arts but also law, medicine, and theology. Financial problems and declining enrollment, however, necessitated the closing of the seminary as well as the schools of law and medicine. The university's charters of 1854 and 1866 restricted admission to male students. However, in 1953 the university amended its charter to permit coeducation. In 1972 Lincoln University became a state-related institution within Pennsylvania's Commonwealth System of Higher Education and was placed on the same basis for state aid as Temple University and the University of Pittsburgh as well as Pennsylvania State University.
Lincoln University has played a vital role in the training of leaders, not only among African Americans but also among Africans. In the first hundred years of its existence, Lincoln University graduated twenty percent of the African-American doctors and more than ten percent of the African-American attorneys in the United States. In the words of Dr. Niara Sudarkasa, the eleventh president of Lincoln University, "Lincoln University's alumni roster reads like a section of Who's Who of the Twentieth Century." Its distinguished alumni include Thurgood Marshall, who not only argued successfully the historic school desegregation case before the Supreme Court in 1954 but also became the first African-American appointed to the Supreme Court, and the poet Langston Hughes, who was in Lincoln University's class of 1929. Two former heads of state in Africa were educated at Lincoln University: Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first prime minister, graduated in 1939, and Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria's first president, was in Lincoln University's class of 1930. Lincoln's alumni have been presidents of thirty-six colleges and universities.
Lincoln's positive impact has particularly been felt in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, where many of its graduates have distinguished themselves as educators, physicians, judges, lawyers, and scientists. Lincoln's graduates include Harry W. Bass, Pennsylvania's first African-American legislator; Robert N. C. Nix, the state's first African-American congressman; Herbert Millen, the state's first African-American judge; and Roy C. Nichols, the first African-American bishop of the United Methodist Church.
Lincoln University has continued the tradition of educating students from Africa who return to their continent to assume leadership positions. Namibia's first independence government cabinet had at least six Lincoln University graduates. This impressive record of Lincoln's national and international alumni in various fields of human endeavor testifies to the value of a preparation solidly rooted in an education for freedom.
Since the 1960s Lincoln University has intensified its tradition of international involvement. In 1961 the U.S. State Department sponsored the African Languages and Area Studies Program at the university. From 1963 to 1971 the United States Peace Corps Training Program prepared volunteers on Lincoln University's campus and sent them to Africa and the Caribbean. Sudarkasa, an internationally recognized anthropologist and the first African-American female to be appointed as Lincoln's president, highlighted the international focus of Lincoln University. Under her leadership Lincoln established the Center for Public Policy and Diplomacy, the Center for the Study of Critical Languages, and the Center for the Comparative Study of the Humanities. These centers have become focal points for international studies at the university. Also, in addition to the European languages that are traditionally taught in colleges, Lincoln also teaches Chinese, Japanese, Russian, and Arabic languages.
Dr. Horace Mann Bond, a graduate of Lincoln University, was the institution's first African-American president. He served from 1945 to 1957. Dr. Bond was succeeded by Dr. Marvin Wachman, who was white. After Dr. Wachman, the succeeding presidents—Dr. Herman Branson (1970–1985), Dr. Sudarkasa (1987–1998), and Dr. Ivory V. Nelson (1999–)—have been black.
Lincoln University's student population traditionally numbered about fourteen hundred, but by 2005 the number had risen to about two thousand. Students are recruited from various social, economic, and national backgrounds. The university has continued to expand the physical facilities on its 350 acres of land.
Bond, Horace Mann. Education for Freedom: A History of Lincoln University, Pennsylvania. Lincoln, Penn.: Lincoln University, 1976.
Carr, George B. John Miller Dickey. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1929.
Lewis, Thomas E. "Lincoln University—The World's First Negro School of Higher Learning." Philadelphia Bulletin (August 26, 1951): 3.
Sudarkasa, Niara. "Lincoln University's International Dimension." In Education for International Competence in Pennsylvania, edited by Andrew Dinniman and Burkart Holzner. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Department of Education, 1988.
levi a. nwachuku (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005