WASHINGTON, D.C. – The “firm and true” university that has produced many of the nation’s most prominent African-American movers and shakers celebrated 150 years of history last week in a ceremony that was very much in tune with the present.
Howard University was charted by the U.S. Congress on March 2, 1867, making 2017 its sesquicentennial (150) year. The celebration kicked off Thursday during the annual Charter Day Convocation, which marks the school’s founding. The speakers touched on the long history of the school that is one of the highest-ranked historically black college and universities (HBCUs), as well as its place in the present-day political climate.
“Over the next two days we will reflect on our past, celebrate our present, and embrace the future as we look forward to another 150 years,” said Stacey Mobley, chairman of the Board of Trustees. “We have prevailed through adversity, socio-economic challenges and systemic racism. Howard University has persevered and developed some of the brightest minds which have truly shaped the course of American and world history.”
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, III is a proud alumnus of the university, where he met his wife, and attended several sesquicentennial events. He said Howard is special to the county as a whole because of the large concentration of graduates who live here.
“I am fortunate to lead a county that is the home to arguably the largest concentration of Howard graduates anywhere in the world. From teachers to judges, Howard University graduates are involved in all aspects of county life and are woven into the fabric of our great county,” he said.
Many county residents also travel to Howard University Hospital for medical care.
“I’m very, very excited,” Baker said of the school’s 150th anniversary. “It was founded to make sure that newly-freed African Americans would have a quality liberal arts education 150 years ago. And they’re still turning out the greatest number of Ph.Ds who are African-American, doctors, lawyers, elected officials.”
Other notable Howard alumni include Montgomery County executive Ike Leggett, mayors Kasim Reed of Atlanta and Ras Baracka of Newark, N.J., current U.S. Senator for California Kamala Harris, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Thurgood Marshall, award-winning actress Taraji P. Henson and authors Toni Morrison and Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Alumni, as well as current students and faculty, gathered during the convocation to celebrate the university and its achievements over the last 150 years, growing from one building and eight graduates in 1867 to a 250-acre campus that has awarded over 100,000 degrees.
Howard University President Wayne Frederick said the achievements over the past 150 years are “an undeniable testament to what happens at this magical place known as the hilltop.”
“It is proof that the words ‘truth and service’ have a resounding effect on persons both within and outside these gates,” he said. “I cannot deny that there’s an unparalleled uniqueness that protects, supports and loves like no other place I have ever been.”
Frederick also unveiled the university’s 150th anniversary logo, as well as new initiatives he would bring before the school’s governing board to make attendance more affordable. They include a three-year degree track and tuition discounts for families where multiple siblings attend the school.
Before Frederick’s speech, university students stood up to protest his actions in recent weeks, notably meeting with President Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. The students felt the university’s president should take a stronger stand against the administration whose values they see as contradictory to Howard’s.
Frederick said he appreciated the students speaking their mind, saying, “That’s what we’re about.” He said the meetings provided an opportunity to show those in power the face of HBCUs as well as the importance of public schools, since students in the education program also spoke with DeVos. Frederick added that he remains committed to the university’s values.
“I recognize that we are embarking on a period of uncertainty concerning our nation’s destiny. In the face of adversity, I challenge us to be slow to give or to take offense toward one another,” Frederick said. “I recognize that the gravity of our nation’s politics has created an undeniable feeling of angst among us all. But I am inspired that Howard University has always combatted injustices by maintaining our commitment to honor truth and service.”
Mobley echoed those sentiments.
“We are a mosaic of diversity. As a sacred institution, Howard University has always been a haven and a viable platform for the freedom of expression and freedom of speech, where commonalities and differences have been encouraged and respected,” Mobley said. “In my view, this is what makes us so unique and resilient. This has allowed us to remain true to our historic mission.”
Featured speaker Mark Mason, chief financial officer for the institutional clients group at Citigroup, said the university and its students have always been at the forefront of political issues. But he said the task now is to look into the future as well.
“In each generation since, Howard has been both timeless and very in-tune with the times, constantly answering the true questions of where we’re going as a people and who we are as a nation,” Mason said. “These are difficult times for our country and for all of us. There’s anger, hurt and confusion in all of us. And we must find a way to move forward together- all of us. And all of us- students, faculty, administrators and alums- must look beyond the next four years and to the next 40 years.”