Oberlin College–the cradle for Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Lawrence is Amanda's (from The Preacher's Promise) father

Lawrence is Amanda’s (from The Preacher’s Promise) father

Lawrence Stewart is the hero of my novella that will release on July 1 called The Lawyer’s Luck. The story takes place in 1844, and he’s the proverbial “young man in a hurry,” who armed with a theological degree who believes he must achieve his long held dream of becoming a lawyer.  He’s out to avenge the forced eviction of his mother’s people –The Miami Indians of Ohio.  (Lawrence is also the son of an adventurous dark-skinned black fur trapper who has long since vanished). His grandmother gave him up after his mother’s death to town officials in Oberlin, Ohio. A full blood Miami, his grandmother didn’t want him to follow her to the west, where the rest of the Miami were forced to evacuate. She wants him to be educated and the town officials see to that. A fictitious character like Lawrence could have only existed in one place –Oberlin, Ohio.

The town of Oberlin and the college named after it, are linked. In the early 1830’s when John Shepard, a minister, had the idea to carve a place out of the wilderness to educate those who would Christianize the populations Westward. Soon after, land  was cleared for the school that would educate these Christian missionaries. In time, Oberlin College becomes the vanguard for all that is progressive at this particular time period. Part of this early mission was to be pious, and to make a reach for equality among the races. So from a very early time in the schools history, Oberlin admitted African Americans (and women) and several of these educated African Americans went on to start and staff Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Not all Historically Black Colleges and Universities descend from Oberlin College, but a good many of them do. Prior to the 1850’s, Oberlin is about the only place where an African American male could get an education. Oberlin is responsible for the first female African American graduates. In The Town that started the Civil War, Nat Brandt quotes an African Methodist Episcopal clergyman who said that Oberlin was the only place in the United States where a Black man might get an inexpensive education and “at the same time, be respected as a man.” Despite the early mission of John Shepard, and his missionary friend Philo T. Stewart (no relation to Lawrence), there was still a good deal of prejudice against African Americans in Oberlin who attended the college with very low percentages, only up to 5% at before the Civil War, but the fact that African Americans could attend the college at all must have appealed. African Americans kept moving there.

By the 1850’s, Oberlin had enough African American residents that the community became integrated as no other place in the United States. African American males voted even though they were not able to vote in other places in Ohio. People of both races went to church together, were buried next to one another and served in professional ways as shopkeepers and yes, as lawyers—eventually. Attaining this credential is quite a struggle for my hero, and I hope you will want to read about Lawrence’s struggle in  The Lawyer’s Luck when it is released on July 1.

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