HISTORY OF LANGSTON UNIVERSITY
“Africa is a rubber ball;
the harder you dash it to the ground,
the higher it will rise.”
-Melvin B. Tolson, Libretto for the Republic of Liberia
The universality of the African proverb (above) quoted by former poet laureate of Liberia Melvin B. Tolson, professor of English, speech, and drama at Langston University (1947-1965), is reflected in the inspiring story of Oklahoma’s only historically black college or university (HBCU)-Langston University. Born in turmoil, strengthened through adversity, Langston University today sits “high on a throne with royal mien.” She celebrated her centennial in March 1997 and has moved with confidence into a second century of excellence.
On the one-year anniversary of Oklahoma statehood, April 22, 1890, Langston City was officially established.
Promoted by its founders, one of whom was prominent African American Edwin P. McCabe, who was influential in the selection of the site of Langston University, the city of Langston had a population of 600 and had 25 retail businesses by 1892, the year in which a common school was built and opened with an enrollment of 135.
Since African Americans were not permitted to attend any of the institutions of higher education in Oklahoma Territory, black citizens appeared before the Oklahoma Industrial School and College Commission in July 1892 to petition that Langston have a college. Eventually, Territorial Governor William Gary Renfrow, who had vetoed a civil rights bill that would have disregarded segregation, proposed a reform bill establishing the university. It was founded as a land grant college through the Morrill Act of 1890 and officially established by House Bill 151 on March 12, 1897, as the Colored Agricultural and Normal University.
The purpose of the university was to instruct “both male and female Colored persons in the art of teaching various branches which pertain to a common school education and in such higher education as may be deemed advisable, and in the fundamental laws of the United States in the rights and duties of citizens in the
agricultural, mechanical and industrial arts.” One stipulation was that the land on which the college would be built would have to be purchased by the citizens. Picnics, auctions, and bake sales were held to raise money, and the land was purchased within a year by black settlers determined to provide higher education for their children.
On September 3, 1898, the school was opened in a Presbyterian Church in Langston with an initial budget of $5,000. The first president was Dr. Inman E. Page (1898- 1915), the son of a former slave who had purchased freedom for himself and his family. During the Page administration, the campus expanded to 160 acres; enrollment increased from 41 to 650 and faculty from 4 to 35; classroom buildings and dormitories were constructed, and the curriculum was strengthened. The meager funding from the State Legislature was assisted by the Enabling Act of 1906 in which Section 13 of each township was set aside for the benefit of education. Langston received eventually 100,000 acres located primarily in western Oklahoma, with some acres in Logan County and a small number in New Mexico. Funds derived from rental and leasing of these lands have benefited the school greatly, as has the one-tenth of the New Morrill Act funds.
Isaac Berry McCutcheon was appointed the second president in 1915 following President Page’s resignation to become president of Macon College in Missouri. In this year, electricity replaced kerosene lighting; the Music Department was able to obtain songbooks, and enough dishes and silver were bought to set the tables in the dining hall. At the same time, much debate was taking place as to whether the prime purpose of Langston University should be to develop the skills of students in the domestic, manual, and agricultural areas as advocated by Booker T. Washington or to follow the teachings of W. E. B. DuBois, who sought political and social equality for African Americans. McCutcheon resigned following controversy surrounding his firing of a history professor. R. E. Bullitt served as Interim President for five months during the early part of 1916.
He was succeeded by John Miller Marquess, third president, who served 1916 – 1923. Marquess was a good businessman who made the boarding system a source of revenue, building a gymnasium from these funds. He favored industrial education, and by the time he left most of the four-year college courses had been dropped. Isaac William Young served as both the fourth president (1923 – 1927) and the sixth president (1931-1935). A physician involved in politics, he was first appointed through his friendship with Governor-elect Jack Walton, left when Walton was out of office, and was again appointed by Governor William H. Murray. He spent $1,000 on library improvements, renovated the Science Department, and spent $40,000 on campus repairs, obtaining from the legislature the first significant building appropriations. At this time, the school owned 320 acres and had nine principal buildings. Also, the curriculum emphasis shifted from manual and technical training to arts and sciences.
Zachary T. Hubert was appointed fifth president in 1927 and served until 1931. During his administration two dormitories and six teachers’ cottages were built as well as a new stone home management house. Described as an intellectual with little interest in political matters, he was replaced by an incoming governor with sixth president I. W. Young.
Following Young’s second term, J. W. Sanford was appointed president and served four years (1935-1939). Several buildings were completed during his tenure including the administration building, Sanford Hall, and an annex to the men’s dorm. He was considered a popular president.
When President Sanford resigned, Benjamin Franklin Lee was appointed as the second interim president in 1939.
He was succeeded by the eighth president, Albert Louis Turner in 1940. Turner found himself in a hotbed of politics, wrote his resignation after about four days, and was nicknamed “President for a Day” as a result.
The shortest tenure of a president was followed by one of the longest. G. Lamar Harrison, ninth president, served from 1940-1960. His philosophy was to “serve the people of the state at the point of their greatest need.” During his tenure, the school improved its library and physical plant, and in his first year he brought in four faculty with doctorates. The school participated in the national defense program; the high school became part of the teacher training unit, and the name of the school was officially changed to Langston University (1941). Both the town and university were named for John Mercer Langston (1829-1897), a black Virginia educator prominent in public affairs who organized the first Department of Law at Howard University, later serving as vice president and acting president of the university. He was appointed by the President to serve as resident minister to Haiti and Santo Domingo. He was also president of Virginia State College for Negroes and was elected in Virginia to serve in the House of Representatives from 1890-1891.
The Langston University Alumni Association was making progress in removing the presidency from political influence, and so Harrison could enjoy stability. A herd of registered beef cattle was established, and the campus was provided with steam heat and underwent renovation– the paving of streets and construction of a modern stadium, a new library, the I. W. Young Auditorium, and Jones Hall. The value of the physical plant rose to $4 million. Radio, shoe, and barber shops were started, and the university printed its own catalog in its print shop.
During the Harrison tenure the curriculum was revised with five divisions being established and two-year associate degree programs added. In 1948 Langston University became a member of the Association of American Colleges, the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (NCATE). It also was affiliated with the State Department for training of foreign students and nationals.
William Henri Hale, the first alumnus to serve as president, was installed in 1960 and served until 1969. One of the primary problems he faced, ironically enough, was integration because many black students were attending previously all-white institutions. Dr. Hale stressed that one of Langston University’s functions was to fill cultural and educational gaps in the lives of underserved students. He proposed a “Ten Year Plan” to upgrade the physical plant and academic activities.
During his tenure, two residence halls, the student center, three faculty apartment buildings, three classroom buildings, a library annex, the music building, a science and technology building, and more apartments were built at a cost exceeding $4 million. The enrollment rose to more than 1,100, including nine (9) white students and 25 foreign students; the 75 member faculty included 20 white instructors. Many alumni sent family members to the university, and in growth and retention, Langston ranked near the top of Oklahoma colleges.
The last phases of the ten-year improvement program called for a new water supply, tennis courts, air conditioning of classroom buildings, and a Black Heritage Center. Recruitment by industry and government increased from ten companies in 1961 to more than 150 in 1966. A development foundation was established and started to provide scholarships and loans. A reading clinic and an audiovisual lab were established. The tailoring shop was replaced by an electronics lab.
During the Hale administration tuition scholarships were awarded to Oklahoma students making a 4.00 grade point average. Ten professional honor societies were on campus. Sixth-Grade Day was established to invite young students to campus to get a feel for college life. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education granted provisional accreditation to Langston University in 1965. Faculty study grants were awarded to ten faculty members to study for the doctorate with support of Title III funds. When Hale was discharged in October 1969 following a secret meeting of the Regents, he received popular support from the students, who marched to the State Capitol in his defense, and from the Langston Alumni Council.
Williams E. Sims, dean of academic affairs at the time, was appointed as third interim president and later as the eleventh president, serving from 1969-1974. During his tenure, research continued to expand as did cooperative education, and the Five College Curriculum Innovative Thrust Program was established. The library joined the Interlibrary Loan System. An auditor’s report revealed that the school had severe financial problems. Sims resigned, and the director of the Cooperative Extension Service, James L. Mosley, was appointed fourth interim president, serving in 1974-75. Sims pointed out that Langston University must be given a substantial increase in funding to survive. He was commended by the Board of Regents and offered the opportunity to remain as a faculty member, but he chose to go to Colorado State University.
Dr. Mosley served during a time of financial stress. He revised the payroll system, restructured the insurance program, and succeeded, with the help of alumni, to keep the summer school program open despite efforts to close it. When he resigned, almost 40% of the private debt had been paid and other improvements with finances had been made.
Thomas E. English, a Langston University alumnus, was appointed twelfth president and served from 1975-1977. His philosophy was “to develop that climate of drawing out the better self of every student.” Financial problems continued to haunt the university, which historically had been underfunded. A general campus cleanup was undertaken and a beautification campaign waged. The gymnasium was remodeled and the swimming pool constructed. Because financial problems continued, English was discharged by the Regents in August 1977.
Ernest L. Holloway, Langston University alumnus, was named fifth interim president in 1977-78. He had held various positions at Langston University, including registrar, dean of student affairs, and professor. He was vice president for administration at the time of his appointment.
Samuel J. Tucker was named thirteenth president of Langston University in March 1978. He spoke of a “new renaissance of excellence” in his opening address.
But by December 1978, he was dismissed by the Board of Regents, and Ernest L. Holloway was named interim president for the second time.
In 1979, Dr. Holloway was named fourteenth president of Langston University. He restored stability to the office and to the university. An immediate challenge was the implementation of the new urban mission, which had been assigned to Langston University in 1978 by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education as one component of Oklahoma’s plan for compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The intent of the new institutional mission was to “help not only to give the university a new image and new thrust, but also make it a more integral and rational part of the total higher education effort in the state.”
As a part of the new mission, upper division urban centers were established in Tulsa and Oklahoma City in 1979.
Sixteen new academic programs were added to the curriculum, including the university’s first professional programs, nursing and physical therapy. Emphasis was placed on urban experiences in all program areas, while the original land grant mission was retained and carried out, particularly in such areas as agricultural research and cooperative extension. Enrollment increased steadily, thanks in part to the new programs and urban centers, resulting in a racial enrollment of approximately 50% black and 50% white, non-resident aliens, and others, as well as record-breaking enrollments in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
More than $105 million was secured through grants and other fund-raising efforts during the Holloway administration. When he retired in 2005, the Endowment Fund totaled over $18.3 million dollars.
The E. (Kika) de la Garza Institute for Goat Research, established in 1984 as the American Institute for Goat Research, continued to attract research scientists, agricultural specialists, and other visitors on the state, national, and international levels. Other highly successful projects of the Research area were the caged fish and small farm projects. The Institute for Goat Research was approved to accept a Middle East Regional Cooperation (MERC) and U.S. Agency for International Goat Production research grant funded at a level of 1 million dollars to do research in the Middle East between 2000-2005. Research is also being done in Ethiopia.
In 1987 Langston University joined with the Guthrie Arts and Humanities Council in opening the doors of the newlyrenovated historical Pollard Theatre in Guthrie, which has provided for Theatre Arts students a unique opportunity for experiential learning.
In 1987, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education granted to Langston University an eighth Function, which permitted the University to plan its first graduate program. Approval of the program in 1988 by the Governing Boards and by the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools allowed the university to offer graduate work at the master’s degree level. In Summer 1989 courses were initiated leading to the Master of Education degree with options in Multicultural/Bilingual Education, English As a Second Language, Urban Education, and Elementary Education.
In Fall 2000 approval was given for the Master of Rehabilitation Counseling degree. In Fall 1989 the E. P. McCabe Honors Program, with a special $200,000 appropriation from the Oklahoma State Legislature, offered its first courses, recruiting outstanding scholars from throughout the state and nation. Today, over $2.2 million is awarded annually for academic scholarships.
In the 1990’s the residence of former presidents (the White House) was renovated and dedicated as the Helen Aline Johnson Hospitality Management Center. It includes housing for campus guests and a restaurant. Renovation was completed on the G. Lamar Harrison Library, which features a bell tower, the architectural focus of the campus. The William H. Hale Student Union dining facilities were expanded. The Randy Ponder Military Center was set up in the Student Union to provide opportunities for students to join the National Guard on campus, the first such establishment of an agreement between a college and the National Guard in the nation. Cable TV was installed on campus, with the university participating in instructional TV through the Higher Education Telecommunications Network (HETA) and the Black College Telecommunications Network (BCTN).
Established on campus were the Professional Counseling Center, the Small Business Development Center, and the National Institute for the Study of Minority Enterprise program. Langston University was officially adopted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which provided support to the Department of Technology, resulting in the establishment of a B. S. degree program in Airway Science, a cooperative effort with Oklahoma State University. The Soil Conservation Service provided a liaison to assist with programs and activities in the Agriculture Department.
During the 1990’s the Oklahoma City Urban Center expanded to offer classes at Tinker Air Force Base. The graduate program began offering courses at the Oklahoma City and Tulsa Urban Centers leading to the Master of Education degree. State funding for Research and Extension was secured for the first time. In support of the Angora Goat Program, 160 acres of land were purchased. The university also participated in the Bryan Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation and Demonstration Project near Henryetta, a project underwritten by the Department of Interior in cooperation with the Oklahoma Conservation Commission.
The first honorary degrees (Master of Humane Letters) were awarded in the 1990’s. The Ira D. Hall Endowed Lecture Series and the annual William Henri Hale Endowed Lecture Series were established.
In 1996 the Centennial Court student apartments were constructed and opened, increasing university housing bed space by approximately 520 beds. Remodeling of Moore Hall to house the School of Business, Department of Social Sciences, and Psychology program was completed. A telecommunications building was constructed as an extension to Sanford Hall. A mall and parking for the area connecting the Student Union, Gayles Gymnasium, and Sanford Hall were completed.
The Weekend College in Oklahoma City, which offers the Bachelor of Arts in Cultural Studies, was added in 2001.
The University’s second master’s degree – the Master of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling – was offered in
The following construction projects were completed: Scholars Inn (600-bed facility for students with minimum 2.5 gpa); The Commons ($10 million housing for students with children); a physical therapy building; the Annie Laurie Coleman Heritage Center, a replica of the Presbyterian Church in which the first university classes were held (funded by a donation from the late chaplain emeritus Dr. John Coleman in honor of his wife, a former faculty member); the Centennial Plaza, including restoration of the “old main entrance” to the university, and a Walk of Fame featuring busts of the university presidents; and the new Agricultural Research, Extension and Education Complex.
Gayles Fieldhouse was expanded, and the football stadium was enlarged to have a seating capacity of 12,000. Artificial turf was installed and the track improved.
The first floor of Breaux Hall was remodeled to house the Early Childhood Development Center, nursery, and Head Start in keeping with the “No Child Left Behind” concept.
Also, the street around Centennial Courts and the periphery of the campus was resurfaced and expanded. Academic goals attained since the turn of the century include offering the only doctoral program in physical therapy (DPT) in Oklahoma; reaccreditation from the North Central Association, NCATE, and the Oklahoma Board of Nursing, and unconditional accreditation for the School of Business; collaboration with public schools by each School; development of a Center of Excellence in Agriculture and Applied Sciences in partnership with the USDA in Grazeland Management, and development of a Center for Outreach, which includes partnership with the Bureau of Land Management and the Environmental Protection Agency; and complete automation and on-line status of the G. Lamar Harrison Library.
In addition, Langston University/Tulsa was established using existing facilities following separation from the University Center of Tulsa (UCT) consortium. Langston University/Oklahoma City was housed in a 38,000+ square foot facility in which are offices, classrooms, a computer laboratory, library facilities, a conference center, and centers for Research and Extension and Small Business Development as well as a food stamp program. A multimedia center there features state-of-the-art equipment which facilitates a teleconference.
One long-time major project completed was securing a four-lane highway between Langston and Guthrie. In recognition of President Holloway’s efforts to see this project completed, as well as to recognize his twenty-five years as an outstanding educator and administrator in Higher Education, the portion of Highway 33 between the Cimarron River bridge and Guthrie was named the Dr. Ernest L. Holloway Highway.
In 2005 Dr. JoAnn W. Haysbert was named the fifteenth president of Langston University. During her first year Dr. Haysbert, with the assistance of her administrative team, prepared a Vision Statement for Langston University “predicated on the fact that we must spawn innovation, generate new technologies and ideas, and produce talented graduates for the global marketplace of tomorrow.” Its basic principles are developing tomorrow’s leaders, a student-centered campus, recruitment, scholarly activities, programs of distinction, closing the digital divide and upgrading technology, economic development, capital growth, and fundraising.
One primary emphasis in Year I was to implement the Statement of Timeless Values in all course syllabi. This statement includes respect for self, respect for others, respect for university property, service to others, leadership, and exemplary character.
Dr. Haysbert immediately established a participatory style of administration. Seeking out the concerns and desires of her administrative teams and other constituency groups including faculty, staff, students, alumni, and citizens of Langston Township, she established a Strategic Planning Committee which developed a Ten-Year Strategic Plan for Langston University. She has interacted with shareholders in the success of Langston University at the University, throughout the state, and on the national level. Year I also saw the establishment of a Center for Entrepreneurship in the School of Business both on the main campus and the urban campuses.
The current history-making activities are a continuation of a proud tradition of transforming challenges into progress, which demonstrates the academic excellence of Langston University in the 21st century.
*Early history is taken from Zella J. Black Patterson, Langston University: A History.