Lincoln's link to Black History

Lincoln University has a rich historical background and one of the most unique connections to Black History .

February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate how African-Americans have contributed to our nation's history.

Mid-Missourians don't have to go very far to find a unique part of that history.

They're a striking part of the Lincoln University campus, statues of black soldiers part of what sociologist, author and activist W.E.B. Dubois has called Lincoln's romantic history.

"He was referring to the African American soldiers and their white officers who were fighting in the Civil War, who were learning to read and to write around the campfires, which was illegal, and decided to put up some funds and a sacrifice and made a commitment to start an institution," Lincoln University's Chief of Staff Dr. Jerome Offord said.

Richard Baxter Foster, a second lieutenant with the 62nd U.S. Colored Infantry collected money from the group's officers to set up a school.

Foster went to St. Louis with that in mind, but white church leaders weren't too interested in black education. That's why the soldiers' school ended up in Jefferson City.

"Jefferson City interestingly enough had thought, well, the war will come to an end, so the city fathers thought black people will need to go to school," Lincoln University history professor, Dr. Deborah Greene said.

Those city fathers ended up creating Lincoln Institute on the site now occupied by Simonsen Ninth Grade Center. Many of those early supporters were German immigrants, including Joseph Rieger, the founding pastor at the Central Evangelical Church, now the Central United Church of Christ.

"These folks were very motivated for social justice and for racial justice and they were subsequently abolitionists. That was difficult in Jefferson City because there were many slaveholders in Jefferson City at that time," Retired Pastor Steven Buchholz said.

Scholars and historians interested in Lincoln's unique history go to the Inman Page Library which is where Richard Foster is remembered as Lincoln's first leader, and where his many letters are preserved.

"All of the letters we have in archive document the turmoil he was going through in trying to decide on this side of history or the other side of history," Offord said.

Lincoln's unique history doesn't end there. Lloyd Gains was an LU graduate who, in 1935, was prevented from entering the law school at the University of Missouri. Missouri offered to pay his tuition out of state.

"All the other things the student had to take care of and he just couldn't afford that, but he could afford to attend in his own state, but state law did not permit that," Green said.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Gains' favor.

After another such incident, Lincoln became the first historically black college or university to have a journalism school.

After the Brown versus the Board of Education decision, Lincoln University became integrated.

Lincoln's history is a key piece of black history, but it's even more than that.

"American history is black history," Offord said. "A lot of folks don't connect the dots, but if you look at the country, how it was built and the wealth, how it started, slavery and all that was involved, African Americans were there from day one.

The Supreme Court decision on the Lloyd Gaines case opened the way for the monumental Brown Versus Board of Education ruling that integrated the nation's public schools.