By Marilyn Hamilton February 25, 2023 Print
Black history is woven into the fabric of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) whose tapestries are rich in Black culture, tradition, triumphs and tribulation. The University of the District of Columbia, which is the nation’s only historically Black urban land grant university, is no exception. Ensure Patient Comfort
Known to Washingtonians as UDC, the institution is unique in that while its historical roots stem from abolitionist Myrtilla Miner who educated freed African American girls in 1851, it was not established into a comprehensive university until over a century later in 1976.
After earning her teaching degree, Miner began teaching the daughters of a Mississippi plantation owner in 1846 where she witnessed firsthand the atrocities of slavery. While her offer to teach the young African American slave girls on the plantation was vehemently opposed, she became even more determined to do so after recovering from an illness that sent her back to her home state of New York.
As Miner began soliciting support to establish a teaching school for African American women, she approached Frederick Douglass, whose sobering words stressed the suffering, danger and failure she could potentially experience despite her best efforts for success. Still, she persevered and, in 1851, began teaching six students in a small, temporary room in the District of Columbia where though the slave trade was banned, due to the Compromise of 1850, slavery was still legal.
Editor’s note: This article continues a series that celebrates Black History Month by recognizing the contribution of historically Black colleges and predominately Black institutions in the history of our nation’s community colleges and the successes of the students that they serve.
Finding a long-term location for a school that taught Black students was another hurdle. But, never backing down from a challenge, Miner found a permanent residence in 1853 for what is now known as the Normal School for Colored Girls. Following the landmark Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which overturned the doctrine of “separate but equal” cited in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), in 1955, the Miner Normal School for colored girls and its counterpart, the Wilson Normal School for white girls, were desegregated and merged into the District of Columbia Teacher’s College.
D.C. residents petitioned to expand higher education in the District that was both affordable and trained for careers beyond teaching. To meet this demand, while serving the needs of the community, the Public Education Act of 1966 created the Washington Technical Institute and Federal City College which were given land-grant status and accredited in 1971 and 1974, respectively. In 1976, under the authorization of the City Council, D.C. Teacher’s College, Washington Technical Institute and Federal City College were consolidated to meet the community’s call for an all-encompassing institution, which created UDC. UDC’s internal framework was built the next year, in 1977, establishing the university’s five colleges and academic programs.
Adding to the institution’s remarkable inception was the opening of the University of the District of Columbia Community College (UDC-CC) in 2009. UDC’s distinctive infrastructure encapsulates numerous student populations including adult learners, English language learners, international students, recent high school graduates, returning students, single parents and veterans.
The inclusive and affordable course offerings at UDC-CC include aviation maintenance technology (classes are held at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport Hangar #2), respiratory therapy and mortuary science. UDC-CC is the only institution in the District offering a full degree program (associate of arts in education) in a second language (Spanish) and offering a two-year associate of applied science in nursing.
UDC-CC also offers programs that are tuition-free, including the Metropolitan Police Department Cadet Corps Program, which offers up to 60 college credits towards an associate degree and the Aon Apprenticeship Department of Labor certified program, where students work in salaried positions at Aon Insurance while pursuing their associate degree at UDC-CC (Aon covers all tuition and costs).
DC youth can also earn free college credit through dual enrollment and learn to code through the Apple Swift Coding & Robotics Camp. UDC-CC programs have also been featured on UDC Forum, a cable show which gives an in-depth look and insight about UDC’s colorful landscape to the greater DC audience.
Every February, UDC commemorates its founder and pioneer, Myrtilla Miner, at the Founder’s Day celebration and honors UDC students, faculty, staff and alumni whose remarkable achievements have impacted the UDC community, the Black community and society at-large. Miner believed that all children deserved a quality education no matter their race, class or creed, despite those in opposition of her efforts. Arguably, the indelible efforts of achievement by UDC stakeholders are the fruits of the labor and seeds Miner planted decades before, creating the tapestry of UDC’s unique history.
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