Historical Markers
Lincoln University Historical Marker
Mouse over for marker text

Lincoln University

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
SR 3026 (old U.S. 1), 2 miles NE of Oxford

Dedication Date:
January 25, 1967

Behind the Marker

Exterior of five buildings and the grounds.
Lincoln University, Lower Oxford, PA, circa 1890.
More than a half-century before markerW.E.B. Du Bois coined the phrase the "talented tenth," a reference to elite leadership within the African-American community, a small school opened in rural Chester County intent on realizing that very ideal. Conceived initially as a training school for the foreign missions, the Ashmun Institute grew beyond its provincial setting into a modern university dedicated, in the words of Horace Mann Bond, to offering an "education for freedom." Among its many accomplishments, present-day Lincoln University claims to be the first institution anywhere in the world to offer a higher education to people of African descent.
Lincoln University commencement photograph of professors and speaker.
Lincoln University commencement, circa 1940.

Founded by local Presbyterian minister John Miller Dickey with the support of the governing New Castle (Delaware) Presbytery, the Ashmun Institute opened in the spring of 1854, just as the nation was plunging into the deep political turmoil that would lead to the outbreak of the Civil War.

Just three years earlier in nearby Christiana, black and white townsfolk had taken up arms to prevent the return of fugitive slaves to their Maryland plantation master. The so-called markerChristiana Riot some say Resistance) gained national attention for the anti-slavery cause and may have influenced Dickey's resolve to open a school steeped in the classical tradition and committed to equal educational opportunity.

Named in honor of Rev. Jehudi Ashmun (1794-1828), an agent of the African Colonization Society, the Institute was one of a handful of church-affiliated black colleges to prosper before the Civil War. Out of respect for the slain president, trustees in 1866 renamed the private school Lincoln University.

Black and white official portrait of a robed Marshall, head and shoulders.
Justice Thurgood Marshall, U.S. Supreme Court official portrait, January 1976.
Several things distinguished Lincoln University from the start. First was its location just north of the Mason-Dixon Line, the proverbial boundary between slavery and freedom in antebellum America. Its founders were committed to the "elevation of an intellectual elite, divinely ordained, through whom would be exercised on the lower classes among their fellows, the saving grace of God's plan for redemption."

In a careful blending of theological and classical imagery, Ashmun/Lincoln's mission was to be a citadel of race pride and leadership extending around the world. Finally, through higher education, African Americans were to discover a sense of individual purpose and civic responsibility far different than they would receive from the vocational training advocated elsewhere.
A man dressed in a business suit and a commencement gown stands while his wife stands behind him, adjusting the neck of the robe.
Dr. Horace Mann Bond, the eighth president of Lincoln University, and his wife...

As an elite institution for men, Lincoln's academic reputation and international outreach continued well into the twentieth century. Both literally and figuratively Lincoln brought the world to its students and its students to the world. Famous alumni included activists Archibald and Francis Grimke (1870), educator Horace Mann Bond ('23), poet Langston Hughes ('26), and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall ('30).

Horace Mann Bond returned with a doctorate in hand to serve as Lincoln's first African-American president from 1945 to 1957. His son Julian remembered as a child meeting Albert Einstein at a campus reception hosted by his father in 1946.

True to its historic Pan-African mission, Lincoln has also educated generations of influential African leaders, including Kwami Nkrumah ('30) Nmadi Azikiwe ('30), and Sibusio Nkomo ('81). In 1950, Lincoln University received primary responsibility for an extraordinary art collection amassed by Philadelphia scientist and entrepreneur Albert C. Barnes.

Symbolically, coincidental to the ninetieth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the eve of its own centennial celebration, Lincoln in 1952 admitted its first class of female students.

Two decades later, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania assumed control and Lincoln University became a state-related or Commonwealth university. Enrolling approximately 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students in two-dozen degree programs, Lincoln University continues to thrive as Pennsylvania's oldest historically black institution of higher education.
Back to Top