HBCU Grant Recipients in the National Register of Historic Places

Color lithograph of birds-eye view of Wilberforce University
The campus of Wilberforce University, c. 1850

Lithograph courtesy of the Library of Congress

For nearly 190 years, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have served as vital educational, social, and cultural spaces for Black Americans. While there are hundreds of colleges across the country that share a mission to educate Black students, not all these schools qualify as HBCUs. Instead, HBCUs have a narrower legal definition, under the Higher Education Act of 1965: a college or university that was established with the principal mission to educate Black students, was formed prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and has earned accreditation or is making progress toward achieving accreditation. As of 2023, there are around 100 schools that meet these conditions.

Facing enslavement, poverty, and discrimination, higher education was almost entirely unavailable for Black Americans in the early 19th century. As abolitionist sentiment began to build in the lead-up to the Civil War, many Black and white Americans alike believed that education was necessary to prepare the formerly enslaved for citizenship. The first HBCU was established in 1837 as the Institute for Colored Youth (later Cheyney University) in Cheyney, Pennsylvania, by a Quaker philanthropist. While a few more schools for Black students were established before the end of the Civil War, often by white Northern evangelicals, the majority of HBCUs were founded by both Black and white educators during the Reconstruction era.
Large building with large number of people standing on front porch and around the school
Ayer Hall at Jackson State University, c. 1910

Photograph courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History

Many HBCUs, due to being founded, funded, and managed by Christian groups, focused their early curricula on religious and education studies. The earliest graduates from these programs usually went on to become preachers and teachers in their communities. The Morrill Act of 1890, which effectively extended the land-grant model to Black colleges, allowed many HBCUs to use federal funds to develop agricultural and mechanical studies programs. Around this time, many schools also transitioned into public or semi-public institutions, as Southern states were incentivized to support training Black teachers to work in segregated school systems.

Despite additional support from the federal government and increasing state involvement in the schools, HBCUs frequently struggled with funding and facilities. In some cases, the schools relied on the manual labor of their students to build campus facilities, which were often constructed of cheaper, flimsier materials like wood. These buildings were at higher risk of destruction during natural disasters or fires, and many were lost to history. The remaining historic buildings on these campuses are often sources of great pride, and serve as reminders of the immense barriers that these institutions have faced to fulfill their missions.

Because of their historical significance, many of these campus buildings have been listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The properties featured below reflect the rich, varied history of these insitutions, and have each received rehabilitation grants through the National Park Service's HBCU Grants program. Through this grant program, any accredited HBCU is able to apply for funding to support preservation projects for properties listed in or eligible for the National Register, including architectural plans, historic structure reports, and the physical rehabilitation of historic buildings. Since the 1990s, the National Park Service has awarded nearly $100 million in grants to help preserve the places, resources, and stories of HBCUs.

Grant Project Highlight: Lyttle Hall

Internal corner of brick building with some covered windows Internal corner of brick building with some covered windows

In 2009, Meharry Medical College received a $1 million grant from the National Park Service to rehabilitate Hulda Margaret Lyttle Hall. While the building underwent minor renovations in 1972, a lack of funds for maintenance and further renovation rendered the building uninhabitable by the 1990s. The grant allowed Meharry to repair the exterior of the building, including the brick facade, the exterior doors and windows, and a portion of the building's roof. Today, the building has been reopened as administrative and medical offices.

Other Selected Grant Recipients:

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    Additional Resources

    Historically Black Colleges & Universities Grant Projects (U.S. National Park Service) (

    HBCU Application Resources - Historic Preservation Fund (U.S. National Park Service) (

    What is an HBCU? | White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity through Historically Black Colleges and Universities.


    Green, Hilary and Keith Hébert. "Historic Resource Study of African American Schools in the South, 1865-1900." National Park Service, 2022. DataStore - Historic Resource Study of African American Schools in the South, 1865–1900 (

    Koch, James V., and Omari H. Swinton. Vital and Valuable: The Relevance of HBCUs to American Life and Education. Columbia University Press, 2022.

    National Center for Education Statistics. "Fast Facts: Historically Black Colleges and Universities." Institute of Education Sciences, 2023. Fast Facts: Historically Black Colleges and Universities (667) (

    Sanders, Crystal R. "Wilberforce University: a pioneering institution in African American education." OUPblog, February 25, 2015. Wilberforce University: a pioneering institution in African American education | OUPblog.

    Thurgood Marshall College Fund. "History of HBCUs." TMCF, 2019. History of HBCUs | Thurgood Marshall College Fund (

    Veney, Cassandra R. “The Ties That Bind: The Historic African Diaspora and Africa.” African Issues 30, no. 1 (2002): 3–8.

    The content for this article was researched and written by Emma Trone, an intern with the National Register of Historic Places.

    Last updated: December 23, 2023