Today in History

Today in History: November 20

Howard University

…for wherever and whenever measures are advanced for the welfare of the people and the direction of the masses there the sons of Howard will be found in the midst of them…

Professor Kelly Miller, President's Address, Sixth Triennial Meeting of the College Alumni Association of Howard University, College Chapel, May 18, 1892.
African American Perspectives: Pamphlets from the Daniel A. P. Murray Collection, 1818-1907

Howard University
Building and Courtyard at Howard University, Washington, D.C.,
Theodor Horydczak, photographer, circa 1920-1950.
Washington as It Was: Photographs by Theodor Horydczak, 1923-1959

On November 20, 1866, ten members of the First Congregational Society of Washington, D.C., gathered in the home of Deacon Henry Brewster for a missionary meeting. While there, they resolved to establish a seminary for the training of African-American clergymen. By early 1867, the founders had broadened their mission to encompass colleges of liberal arts and medicine.

Howard University (external link) was incorporated on March 2, 1867, and accepted its first students the following May. Its founders envisioned the institution as a resource for educating and training black physicians, teachers, and ministers from the nearly four million recently emancipated slaves.

Portrait of Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard
Portrait of Major Gen. Oliver O. Howard, Officer of the Federal Army,
between 1860-65.
Selected Civil War Photographs

The university was named for Major General Oliver O. Howard, a founder of the university as well as a Civil War hero and commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau (1865-72). Howard directed considerable resources towards establishing the university, including the original three-acre campus, the main building, and the old medical school.

Howard University was one of several educational institutions funded by the Freedmen's Bureau for the purposes of providing education for the freedmen. Congress had established the bureau in 1865 to provide practical assistance to the newly freed slaves. The bureau facilitated the building of 45 hospitals and the education of approximately 150,000 former slaves before it was dismantled in 1872.

A posed group of African American men.
Law Graduating Class at Howard University, Washington, D.C.,
ca. 1900,
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

Howard University's distinguished alumni include former U.S. Senator from Massachusetts Edward William Brooke, sociologist E. Franklin Frazier, playwright Imamu Amiri Baraka, and statesman Ralph Bunche.

Howard University's distinguished alumni include former U.S. Senator from Massachusetts Edward William Brooke, Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, sociologist E. Franklin Frazier, playwright Imamu Amiri Baraka, and civil rights leader and attorney Vernon Jordan. Charles Hamilton Houston, vice-dean of the Howard University School of Law from 1929-35, was a key architect of the legal strategy that ultimately overturned the separate but equal standard adopted by the Supreme Court in 1894, bringing an end to the segregation of public facilities in the South. Thurgood Marshall, who argued the case that overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson decision, was one of many lawyers who had studied with Houston at Howard.

The Alaskan Frontier

Mt. McKinley
Mt. McKinley and the Alaska Range, Mt. McKinley National Park, Alaska, 1958.
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991

On November 20, 1942, U.S. Army engineers, working closely with partners in U.S. civilian agencies and Canada officially opened the Alaska Highway. This overland military supply route, originally known as the Alcan Highway, passed through the Yukon, running from the prairies of British Columbia to the Territory of Alaska. The roadway was over 1,500-miles long and connected Dawson Creek, British Columbia, to Fairbanks, Alaska. It provided Americans and Canadians on the Pacific coast new avenues for the transportation of goods, and an increased sense of security after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and escalating hostility in the Pacific. This first phase of construction was completed in less than eight months.

In the 1780s, Russian fur traders became the first European settlers of the land across the Bering Strait from Siberia. Russian influence on native Alaskans is explored in the Library of Congress exhibition In the Beginning Was the Word: The Russian Church and Native Alaskan Cultures. The Library’s collaborative digital project with Russian libraries, Meeting Of Frontiers: Siberia, Alaska, and the American West, explores the comparative history of the Russian expansion across Siberia to the Russian Far East and the Pacific, the American expansion westward, and the meeting of the Russian-America frontier in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

The Russian-American Company administered Alaska from 1799 until 1867, when Secretary of State William H. Seward negotiated the purchase of Alaska for the United States. Congress established The Territory of Alaska in 1912, prompted by the significant gold discoveries of the 1880s and 1890s.

Building near the base of a mountain.
Independence Mine, Palmer Vicinity, Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Alaska
Jet Lowe, photographer, May 1981.
Built in America: Historic Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record, 1933-Present

There is a wealth of material on Alaska in American Memory collections.