LEGACY OF THE LAND: RETHINKING JUSTIN MORRILL AND THE 1890 LANDGRANT INSTITUTIONS
The American higher education history focuses on the same three years: 1787, 1862 and 1944. In each of these years, legislation was passed that made education more accessible in the United States. However, another key year is left out: 1890, when the second Land-grant Act was passed. This act created a system of schools for the newly freed African American community in Southern states and is major mark in both American educational and and black history. But the 1890s land-grant schools are ever hardly discussed, and I wanted to know, why? To learn more about the 1890s, I examined documents related to the 1890 schools as well as the 1862 schools. Through analysis of the language, mission and memory in the museum exhibits and material provided by the land-grant universities, it is clear that the 1890 schools provided holistic, community oriented curriculums. To them, teaching was about more than vocational preparation but building the foundation for a stronger and better society. What did the 1862s focus on? Farming, a lot of farming. I also reviewed the speeches, letters and personal writings of Justin Morrill who is the “Father of the Land-Grant colleges.” His writings indicate that he saw education as a right of all Americans, and that everybody would benefit from the art of reading and writing. Morrill was deeply upset throughout his entire life that he could not go to college and wanted to save others from his suffering. Despite the fact the 1862 land-grants were a little too agri-obsessed for Morrill’s taste, they became his legacy. The reason nobody sees this connection is due to the fact the 1890s are more commonly recognized as HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) than landgrants. In turn, their reputation has been limited to their racial identity and Morrill’s has been limited to 1862; both are victims of a careless and stubborn American higher education narrative that only has room for the mode ideologically democratic stories.
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