Lincoln University: Founded by Missouri Civil War Soldiers of the U.S. Colored Infantry

The Soldiers' Plaza, Lincoln University (photo by Cynthia Collins. All rights reserved).

The Soldiers’ Plaza, Lincoln University (photo by Cynthia Collins. All rights reserved).

After the Civil War ended, members of the 62nd and 65th United States Colored Infantry founded Lincoln University in Jefferson City, MO. This historically black university was named after President Lincoln, and opened Sept. 17, 1866 under the name Lincoln Institute. The decision to open a school was to offer education opportunities “for the special benefit” of freed African-Americans.

Slaves, particularly southern states, had not been allowed to learn to read. Even though Missouri had entered the United States as a slave state so that Maine could enter as a free state, it was never considered southern and never part of the Confederacy. Missouri was very divided on the issue of slavery, but it also had a law against teaching slaves to read.

In 1863, after the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation, thousands of African-American men joined the War Department’s newly formed United States Colored Troops. This was divided into several regiments of artillery, cavalry, and infantry; seven of these were based in Missouri. Two of these regiments were known as the 62nd and 65th regiments.

The 62nd Infantry was deployed to Louisiana in 1864. The regimental commander, Lt. Col. David Branson, ordered that all non-commissioned officers learn to read. The 65th Infantry was also stationed in Louisiana and remained there while the 62nd was sent to Texas. While there, the 62nd fought in the last battle of the Civil War at Palmito Ranch, TX.

After the fighting was over, the soldiers gathered at Fort McIntosh, TX, making plans to create a school in Missouri for freed slaves and their descendants. The 62nd Infantry collected $5,000 from their pay and the 65th Infantry added an additional $1,400 to start the school. They decided that the school should be in Missouri’s capital city, Jefferson City. The name was changed in 1921 to Lincoln University. Since the 1954 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education, Lincoln has been open to all students, regardless of race, who meet the entrance standards.

A large monument to the founders and the reason they built the school was erected on campus in 2007. Known as the Soldiers’ Memorial Plaza, this bronze larger-than-life sculpture by Ed Dwight, depicts the founders in their Civil War uniforms. Some are pulling others up as if they are climbing up a hill, others are walking ahead. Along the steps and walkway leading to the sculpture are cast bronze plaques telling how the university became a reality.

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For more information:

Lincoln University

Missouri: Early Slave Laws