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Fri, 06.12.1868

Straight University is Founded

*Straight University was founded on this date in 1868. It was one of over 100 Historically Black Colleges and Universities in America (HBCUs). 

Straight University operated in New Orleans, Louisiana, from 1868 to 1934. Responding to the post-American Civil War need to educate newly freed Blacks in the city and the surrounding region, the American Missionary Association of the Congregational Church founded the University.  

They received their name in recognition of Seymour Straight's initial endowment gift. Straight was a wealthy cheese manufacturer from Hudson, Ohio. In 1915, the name "Straight University" was changed to Straight College, which more accurately represented the school's curriculum and program scope. Missionary work was a core concern extending from New Orleans to Africa.

Straight University offered professional training, including a law department from 1874 to 1886. Its graduates participated in local and national Reconstruction-era American Civil Rights Movements. For example, Louis André Martinet, an 1876 graduate of Straight University Law School, published The Crusader, a civil rights daily; co-founded the Comité des Citoyens (Citizens' Committee) in New Orleans, who worked for civil rights; and played a significant role in setting up the challenge to segregation of Plessy v. Ferguson, a landmark Supreme Court case.  His classmate Dan Desdunes joined him in this effort before moving to North Omaha, Nebraska, to become a notable band leader.

The Law Department was historically notable as an integrated institution where Blacks and whites were trained. "It is an interesting fact of our 50 law graduates, 35 have been white."  The school struggled to provide its law students with a proper research library. The students typically met for classes in the law professors' offices. In 1886, Straight discontinued the Law Department.

It began to focus primarily on liberal arts, industrial arts, and teacher training. The campus faced Canal Street, occupying the block between Tonti and Rocheblave, backed by Gasquet (now Cleveland Avenue). Throughout its history, Straight offered elementary- to college-level courses in music and theology. In 1934, after struggling with financial difficulties during the Great Depression, Straight College was merged with New Orleans University to form Dillard University.   

After the university was absorbed, the campus buildings served as a school and YWCA for nearly two decades. They were demolished in 1950. Graduates were essential in bringing education and medical care to Blacks early in the 20th century. Physician James W. Ames, for example, founded the first hospital for Blacks in Detroit in 1910. He created Dunbar Hospital for physicians and patients of color, as they could not practice in or be admitted to Detroit hospitals operated by whites. Nellie A. Ramsey Leslie, a teacher in Indian Territory and Texas.

Other notable alumni include P.B.S. Pinchback, Ernest Lyon (educator and U.S. Ambassador to Liberia), Mary Booze (first African American to sit on the Republican National Committee, serving from Mississippi from 1924 to 1948); Alice Dunbar Nelson of the Harlem Renaissance, and Theodore K. Lawless. 


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Black American Colleges and Universities:
Profiles of Two-Year, Four-Year, & Professional Schools
by Levin Hill, Pub., Gale Group, 1994
ISBN: 0-02-864984-2

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