Hampton University: A Look at Its Historical Significance 

By: Coach Trish

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Hampton University is consistently ranked in the top five amongst Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). From its location and academic programs to its famous alumni, Hampton’s reputation does not go unnoticed. Although many are proud of what it is today, few understand the value of its history.   It is the spring of 1861. The American Civil War divides the nation into northern and southern forces with slaves’ lives hanging in the balance. Union Major General Benjamin Butler declares that slaves who escape to the north will not be returned to their owners in the south, which sparks a mad dash from bondage in the south to freedom in the north. Some head to Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia, where a camp has been set up for the people referred to as “Contrabands of War.” Three miles north of the camp, a woman named Mary Peake begins teaching newly-freed blacks under a large oak tree. This outdoor classroom will later serve as the site of the first southern reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, which will pronounce freedom for all enslaved persons in 1863. That tree stands at the entrance of what is now the campus of Hampton University.   It is the spring of 1868. Hampton University is founded as Hampton Normal & Agricultural Institute, a place where blacks can learn, teach, and lead by example. Students are not only taught to read and write, but also learn trades like farming, bricklaying, tailoring, blacksmithing, painting, and carpentry. The sole purpose of Hampton Normal & Agricultural Institute is to provide a plan for newly-freed persons to support themselves in a world where respect will not be given freely. To earn the privilege to study at this institution, students pay tuition and fees by laboring on the new campus. In fact, most of the university’s original buildings are built by its first students as a form of payment.   It is the fall of 1872. Hampton University’s most unlikely student travels 500 miles from his home to campus on foot, by buggy, and as a stowaway on various trains. This son of a slave who has stopped only to work odd jobs to finance his journey is Booker T. Washington. When he arrives almost penniless and filthy enough to be mistaken for a vagrant, he doesn’t make a great impression. Instead of granting him admission, the assistant principal asks him to sweep one of the rooms. Booker T. Washington sees this request as an opportunity to prove his worthiness for admission. He sweeps the room three times, polishes every piece of furniture four times, and even washes the walls. Not only is he granted admission, but he is also given a job as a janitor. He graduates three years later, but not before getting the attention and favor of the founder of the university, who later hand-selects him to found a college in Alabama. In 1881, Booker T. Washington of Hampton University founds Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, known today as Tuskegee University.   It is winter 1955. Rosa Parks has just been arrested for not yielding her seat on a bus to a white man. The Montgomery Bus Boycott will last a total of 381 days, until the U.S. Supreme Court rules that segregation on public buses is unconstitutional. After her arrest, Rosa Parks and her husband are fired from their jobs and unable to find work. After being contacted by Hampton University’s president about a hostess job on campus, Rosa Parks and her family move to Virginia. She works at Hampton University’s Holly Tree Inn for one year as a hostess in the dining facility. Many now believe that her presence there inspired a group of Hampton students to stage the first lunch counter sit-in in Virginia in 1960 to protest Woolworth’s Department Store’s refusal to serve black and whites equally.   These are only a few examples of Hampton University’s historical relevance. Because of its rich history and curriculum centered on students embracing culture, Hampton has been the epicenter of African American achievement, but most importantly, it is a place of hope and promise. For more information about the college, head on over to its website (www.hampton.edu). To discuss whether it is a good fit for you, contact your CAA coaches.   Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/oYeEWy

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