Black History 365 – The first Black people to… hold positions in a university (2-for-1)

Sarah Jane Woodson Early

Sarah Jane Woodson Early

Daniel Payne

Daniel Payne

In 2016 for my Black History 365 series, I explore the obvious and not so obvious parts of American history that those called Black have taken part in. The things that we (Black people) have done other than be stolen from our homeland and made forced labor in a land foreign to us. I’m going to start this series by looking up the first time someone African-American did something and broke the color barrier in that activity or field. I’ll be starting with Wikipedia and working my way out:

I will be learning a lot of this as I go since I am a product of the standardized Euro/Anglo/Caucasian leaning public school system. I hope you enjoy learning with me. I’ll be going down the list chronologically as it appears in the Wikipedia article.

If you have any other sources or additional information for this topic, please share in the comments. I also welcome any and all comments and discussion. Thanks for reading!

My twenty-first entry this year is sort of a continuation from the last AND a 2-for-1:

1858:  First African-American female college instructor: Sarah Jane Woodson Early, Wilberforce College

1863:  First African-American president of a college: Bishop Daniel Payne (Wilberforce University)


Sarah Jane Woodson Early, born Sarah Jane Woodson (November 15, 1825 – August 1907), was an American educator, black nationalisttemperance activist and author. A graduate of Oberlin College, she was hired at Wilberforce College in 1858 as the first African-American woman college instructor.

She also taught for many years in community schools. After marrying in 1868 and moving to Tennessee with her minister husband Jordan Winston Early, she was principal of schools in four cities. Early served as national superintendent (1888–1892) of the black division of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and gave more than 100 lectures across five states. She wrote a biography of her husband and his rise from slavery that is included among postwar slave narratives.


Daniel Alexander Payne (February 24, 1811 – November 2, 1893) was an American bishop, educator, college administrator and author. He became the sixth bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) (1852–1893) and was a major shaper of it in the 19th century, stressing education and preparation of ministers and the introduction of more order in the church. He was one of the founders of Wilberforce University in Ohio in 1856. In 1863 the AME Church bought the college; chosen to lead it, Payne became the first African-American president of a college in the United States and served in that position until 1877.

By quickly organizing AME missionary support of freedmen in the South after the Civil War, Payne gained 250,000 new members for the AME Church during the Reconstruction era. Based first in Charleston, he and his missionaries founded AME congregations in the South down the East Coast to Florida and west to Texas. In 1891 Payne wrote the first history of the AME Church, a few years after publishing his memoir.


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