DOVER — Gov. Jack Markell signed a proclamation Tuesday at Delaware State University to recognize Delaware 1890 Land-Grant University Week.
Delaware State University is one of 19 existing land-grant universities commemorating the 125th anniversary of the second Morrill Act, which supported higher education for African-Americans.
Gov. Markell reminded students to not only honor the past, but also look to the future.
“We have to continue to dream,” he said. “In some fashion none of us can know Sen. Morrill’s heart back then or what made up his dreams, but he was dreaming big ... and all of us are the beneficiaries of that dream.
“Well, we need to dream big as well, so that 10, 20, 30, 40 and 135 years from now a future generation of Delawareans — they will not know our names, they will not know our faces — but they will know we were there for them.”
Justin Morrill, a congressman and a U.S. senator from Vermont, authored the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890, respectively.
The first act, initiated during the Civil War, offered land and money to establish institutions of higher education in each state. In 1890, Sen. Morrill crafted another piece of legislation that aimed to help African-American students.
To receive funds through the second act, states were required to prove race was not a factor in institutions’ admissions policies or else to designate a separate college for African-Americans.
The Delaware assembly took advantage of the act and passed legislation in 1891 to establish the State College for Colored Students, which would later become Delaware State University.
“Without the 1890 Morrill Act, Delaware State University simply would not exist,” said Carlos Holmes, the university’s director of news services. Mr. Holmes gave an overview of the history of the act during the ceremony Tuesday.
The year after the act, the college opened its doors to 12 students and began classes.
“Fast forward to 2015, more than 19,000 college and university graduates have received their diploma right here at Delaware State University,” Mr. Holmes said.
Events are planned throughout the week at the university to honor its legacy. The kick-off ceremony at the Martin Luther King Student Center was attended by faculty, staff, students and officials.
“We are proud of the fact that we have created so many scholars across the country and that we have been at the forefront of this,” said DSU president Dr. Harry L. Williams.
In his closing remarks, Gov. Markell reminded students that the future of Delaware State University is in their hands.
He told them the success of the college hinges more on their decisions and “the role that you decide to play in your alma mater’s future” than the administration’s actions.
“This is, in fact, your institution,” he said.