February 9: Howard University’s Permanent Congressional Budget Line is Considered Reparations for the Atrocities Committed Against Blacks in the U.S.

Autumn A. Arnett
4 min readFeb 9, 2019

Howard University has produced more Black Ph.D. holders than any other school in the country, including more Black STEM Ph.D. holders, dominating the life sciences and social sciences Ph.D. numbers in particular.

Called “The Mecca” of HBCUs Howard University is the only institution to maintain a permanent appropriations line in the United States’ congressional budget — despite being classified as a private institution.

Founded in 1867, the university, thanks to “the great enthusiasm of the founders” and donors, expanded to include a Normal School, night school, agricultural department, library and museum, college department, medical department, law department, pharmaceutical department, hospital, commercial department, industrial department, music department, military department, preparatory department, and a theological department in just five short years.

But in 1873, a financial crisis hit much of Europe and North America, spurring the first Great Depression,” and thus donor enthusiasm dropped off significantly. The U.S. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands — created by Congress to help former slaves and poor whites in the South after the Civil War, and a large source of funding to the university — shut down. Prior to its closing, it had given $528,955.95 to the university. Within two years, the university found itself over $100,000 in debt following the sharp and unexpected loss of both public and private funding.

William Weston Patton took over as president in 1877, and realizing the school could not sustain itself on high-interest loans, devised a plan to secure a permanent federal appropriation. The first appropriation in 1879 came as an earmark in a larger bill that “ was so small as compared with the total amount carried in the bill … that it probably would have attracted no attention had not an effort been made to have the District of Columbia pay onehalf of it.”

“ The Committee on Appropriations were of the opinion that the colored population of the District was very largely interested in it, and therefore, thought it desirable to make that provision,” thought Minnesota Senator William Windom, but it was eventually decided that the federal government should bear the responsibility.

A 1926 appropriations bill stated:

“the Committee feels that Federal aid to Howard University is fully justified by the national importance of the Negro problem. For many years past it has been felt that the American people owed an obligation to the Indian, whom they dispossesed of his land, and annual appropriations of sizable amounts have been passed by Congress in fulfillment of this obligation. The obligation in favor of the Negro race would seem to he even stronger than in the case of the Indian., The Negro was not robbed of his land as was the Indian, hut he was seized by force and brought unwillingly to a strange country, where for generations he was the slave of the white man, and where, as a race, he has since been compelled to eke out a meager and precarious existence.

“Moreover, financial aid lias been and still is extended by the Federal Government to the so-called land-grant colleges of the various states. While it is true that Negroes may be admitted to these colleges, the conditions of admission are very much restricted, and generally it may be said that these colleges are not at all available to the Negro, except for agricultural and industrial education. This is particularly so in the professional medical schools, so that the only Class-school in America for training colored doctors, dentists, and pharmacists is Howard University, it being the only place where the complete clinical work can be secured by the colored student.

“There is furthermore, a strong practical reason why a school like Howard University should be maintained in the District of Columbia.The Freedmeu’s Hospital was authorized by Congress in 1904, and was built upon land owned by Howard University. The University generously leased the land to the Federal Government for ninety-nine years, at $1.00 a year, with a privilege of renewal for a like period. The existence of this hospital so near to the medical school of Howard University affords the students of the University an opportunity which exists nowhere else in this country to acquire the clinical instruction which is necessary to complete each student’s medical course. On the other hand, this opportunity exists for white students in every State of the Union.

“In addition to the great importance to the country of having an institution capable of developing trained leaders for the colored race in all walks of life, the urgent necessity of making possible a supply of properly trained physicians of that race for the protection of the health of all our people, white as well as black, must be plain to every fair-minded American citizen.”

And thus, permanent funding for Howard University was established by precedent as something of a permanent reparation of the debt owed to Blacks by the United States.



Autumn A. Arnett

Autumn A. Arnett is an advocate for education equity, an HBCU alumna, Founder of A Black Child Can (aBlackChildCan.org). Connect with her via www.a2arnett.com.