North Carolina's Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)

It would be difficult to understand the creation of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) without understanding the social climate that led to its establishment. Prior to the Civil War ending in 1865, the majority of African Americans in the United States were slaves in the southern states. Education for African Americans was sparse, especially in the South due to laws like the one in North Carolina that prohibited teaching slaves to read and write. It should be no surprise, then, that by the time the southern states seceded from the Union, it was a rare occurrence for an African American to be literate. 

While there were a few HBCUs in the North prior to the Civil War, the first college available to African Americans in the South was Shaw University, which opened its doors in 1865. It wasn’t until after the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s that real progress was made towards ensuring equal access to education for all people. While federal laws exist today that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or age, some African American students still prefer the environment of a historically black campus. Because HBCUs primarily serve African Americans, students who choose to attend an HBCU may do so because they prefer students and instructors with similar backgrounds and who have had similar cultural experiences. 

Click here for an interactive timeline of the history of North Carolina's HBCUs

Click on the images below for NCpedia articles on North Carolina's HBCUs

Shaw UniversityFayetteville State UniversityBarber-Scotia CollegeJohnson C. SmithSt. Augustine's UniversityBennett CollegeLivingstone CollegeKittrell CollegeNorth Carolina A&T State UniversityElizabeth City State CollegeWinston-Salem State UniversityNorth Carolina Central University


Barber-Scotia College (1867)
Bennett College (1873)
Elizabeth City State University (1891)
Fayetteville State University (1867)
Johnson C. Smith University (1867)
Kittrell College (1886-1975)
Livingstone College (1879)
North Carolina A & T State University (1891)
North Carolina Central University (1910)
St. Augustine’s University (1867)
Shaw University (1865)
Winston-Salem State University (1892)

Average: 3.1 (43 votes)

Image Credits:

Contemporary photographs taken from university websites. Historic photo of Johnson C. Smith University from Digital Smith, in the Archives of the James B. Duke Library.




The article states Shaw University started in 1895. Correction, Shaw U. was started in 1865. Also the wording implies that Shaw University was the first HBCU. It should read more clearly if you mean first in North Carolina. Please update and correct the shared information. Thanks


Thank you for using NCpedia and bringing this to our attention. We will work on correcting the article. Please check back for updates!

Laurie Reeves, NC Government & Heritage Library


These colleges are well but i'm not looking to go to any of these colleges.


I am looking for myself and my nephew he is an upcoming senior and I have a Bachelors looking to pursue my Masters.


Out of this list of colleges, I would find out your nephew's strong points academicly because certain schools cater best to certain schools needs and interest of the student!!


I would love to go to this college


I really love this article! I learned a lot and I also enjoyed this as well. Thank you so much for posting this. <3


Hey that wasn't the question. The question was what was the first black college in NC, which is Shaw University. It didn't say in the US.


I will be doing a special on Colleges today on the internet. good and Bad colleges.


Excellent article however the primary question was not addressed. The major question to be settled is; what was the first HBCU (historically black college or university) in the US. That answer is Lincoln University (PA). Cheyney University is a fine institution but did not originate as a college. Your article did not correctly state that Cheyney was an elementary school at its inception (Institution for Colored Youth 1837 – 1913), then a High School (Cheyney State Normal School 1913 – 1921)and later became a teachers college in 1921(Cheyney State Teachers College 1921 – 1959). Lincoln University of PA (Founded as Ashmun Institute) was and is the first HBCU. Lincoln University chartered by the State of PA in April of 1854 (then Ashmun Institute), with its original purpose for the higher education of youth of African descent. Lincoln was established under the protection of the Presbytery of New Castle in 1853, as an institution to be called Ashmun Institute, for the scientific, classical and theological education of young Black males. On April 29, 1854, Ashmun Institute received its charter from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Lincoln’s graduates went on to start other colleges with a focus on educating the nation’s poor and minority population such as South Carolina State University, Livingstone College, Albany State University and several others. Lincoln University is also credited for graduates founding colleges and universities internationally. Lincoln University is also credited with educating the first presidents of Nigeria and Ghana. Lincoln also covets historically significant graduates such as Langston Hughes, Thurgood Marshall, Hildrus A. Poindexter and many others.

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