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America’s First Black Collegians Face a System that Favored White Elite

Written by PlayBack

By Evette D. Champion

It is important to remember those who fought for the right to get a higher education during a time when it was almost impossible for ’s to do so. This article is dedicated to those first African American collegians who lived during a time when was still legal within the country and there were laws created to hold back any progress African Americans hoped to achieve.

John Chavis

John Chavis was born in the south and was the child of free blacks from North Carolina. He was a Revolutionary War veteran who studied privately with John Witherspoon, who was the sixth president of the College of New Jersey (now called Princeton University) and a man who signed the Declaration of Independence.

Although there aren’t any official records that Chavis graduated, it has been inferred that he graduated because he was allowed to obtain a license to become a minister for a Presbyterian Church. According to the minutes of the Lexington Presbytery taken on October 19, 1799, “John Chavis, a man personally known to most members of the Presbytery and of unquestionably good favor, & a communicant in the Presbyterian Church was introduced and conversed with relative to his practical acquaintance with living religion & his call to preach the Everlasting Gospel.”

Lemuel Haynes

Like Chavis, Haynes was a veteran of the Revolutionary War. He turned down the opportunity to matriculate at Dartmouth College after the war had ended. Instead, he listened to his calling to become the New Light Congressional Minister and was noted to be the first African American to be a minister of a white church.

Alexander Lucius Twilight

Twilight was the first African American to graduate from Middlebury College with a Bachelor’s Degree in 1823. His family was the first African American family to settle in Corinth, Vermont. Twilight also earned the title of being the first African American who would serve in the state legislature for the United States.

Martin Freeman

Freeman was dubbed the first African American professor with a college education when he joined the faculty of the Allegheny Institute and Mission Church (which would later become Avery College) in Pittsburg, PA. He was invited by the college in 1852 to receive an honorary Master’s Degree. Four years later, he would be elected to become the president of the college, although he resigned during the Civil War, where he would go to the Liberia College in Africa so he could teach math and natural philosophy.

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