Shortly after the end of the American Civil War, members of The First Congregational Society of Washington considered establishing a theological seminary for the education of African-American clergymen. Within a few weeks, the project expanded to include a provision for establishing a university. Within two years, the University consisted of the Colleges of Liberal Arts and Medicine. The new institution was named for General Oliver Otis Howard, a Civil War hero, who was both the founder of the University and, at the time, Commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau. Howard later served as President of the university from 1869–74.
U.S. Congress chartered Howard on March 2, 1867, and much of its early funding came from endowment, private benefaction, and tuition. An annual congressional appropriation administered by the U.S. Department of Education funds Howard University and Howard University Hospital.
Many improvements were made on campus. Howard Hall was renovated and made a dormitory for women. J. Stanley Durkee, Howard's last white president, was appointed in 1918.
Howard University has played an important role in American history and the Civil Rights Movement on a number of occasions. Alain Locke, Chair of the Department of Philosophy and first African American Rhodes Scholar, authored The New Negro, which helped to usher in the Harlem Renaissance. Ralph Bunche, the first Nobel Peace Prize winner of African descent, served as chair of the Department of Political Science. Beginning in 1942, Howard University students pioneered the "stool-sitting" technique, which was to play a prominent role in the later civil rights movement. By January, 1943, students had begun to organize regular sit-ins and pickets at cigar stores and cafeterias around Washington, D.C. which refused to serve them because of their race. These protests continued until the administration asked the students to stop in the Fall of 1944. Stokely Carmichael, also known as Kwame Toure, a student in the Department of Philosophy and the Howard University School of Divinity coined the term "Black Power" and worked in Lowndes County, Alabama as a voting rights activist. Historian Rayford Logan served as chair of the Department of History. E. Franklin Frazier served as chair of the Department of Sociology. Sterling Allen Brown served as chair of the Department of English.
In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson delivered a speech to the graduating class at Howard, where he outlined his plans for civil rights legislation and endorsed aggressive affirmative action to combat the effects of years of segregation of blacks from the nation's economic opportunities. At the time, the Voting Rights bill was still pending in the House of Representatives.
In 1975 the historic Freedman's Hospital closed after 112 years of use as Howard University College of Medicine's primary teaching hospital. Howard University Hospital opened that same year and continues to be used as Howard University College of Medicine's primary teaching hospital with service to the surrounding community.
In 1989, Howard gained national attention when students rose up in protest against the appointment of then-Republican National Committee Chairman Lee Atwater as a new member of the university's Board of Trustees. Student activists disrupted Howard's 122nd anniversary celebrations, and eventually occupied the university's Administration building. Within days, both Atwater and Howard's President, James E. Cheek, resigned.
In April 2007, the head of the faculty senate called for the ouster of Howard University President H. Patrick Swygert, saying that the school was in a state of crisis and it was time to end "an intolerable condition of incompetence and dysfunction at the highest level." This came on the heels of several criticisms of Howard University and its management. The following month, Swygert announced that he would retire in June 2008. The university announced in May 2008 that Sidney Ribeau of Bowling Green State University would succeed Swygert as president. Ribeau appointed a Presidential Commission on Academic Renewal to conduct a year-long self-evaluation that resulted in reducing or closing 20 out of 171 academic programs. For example, they proposed closing the undergraduate philosophy major and African studies major.
Six years later, in 2013, university insiders again alleged that the university was in crisis. In April, the vice chairwoman of the university's board of trustees wrote a letter to her colleagues harshly criticizing the university's president and calling for a vote of no confidence; her letter was subsequently obtained by the media where it drew national headline. Two months later, the university's Council of Deans alleged that "fiscal mismanagement is doing irreparable harm," blaming the university's senior vice president for administration, chief financial officer and treasurer and asking for his dismissal. In October, the faculty voted no confidence in the university's Board of Trustees executive committee, two weeks after university president Sidney A. Ribeau announced that he would retire at the end of the year. On October 1, the Board of Trustees named Wayne A.I. Frederick Interim President. In July 2014 Howard's Board of Trustees named Frederick as the school's 17th president.
The 256-acre (1.04 km2; 0.400 sq mi) campus often referred to as "The Mecca" is located in northwest Washington. Major improvements, additions, and changes occurred at the school in the aftermath of World War I. New buildings were built under the direction of architect Albert Cassell. Howard's buildings and plant have a value of $567.6 million.
Howard University has several historic landmarks on campus, such as Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel, Fredrick Douglass Memorial Hall, and the Founders Library.
The Howard University Gallery of Art was established in 1928 by the University's Board of Trustees. Since its inception, the gallery's permanent collection has grown to over 4,000 works of art and continues to serve as an academic resource for the Howard community.
Howard University has nine residence halls in which students can live: Drew Hall (male freshmen), College Hall North (female freshmen), Tubman Quadrangle (female freshmen), Bethune Annex (co-ed, undergraduates), Cook Hall (co-ed, undergraduates), Plaza Towers West (co-ed, for juniors and seniors only), Slowe Hall (co-ed), College Hall South (co-ed), and Plaza Towers East (co-ed, graduate and undergraduate honor students).
Howard University Hospital, opened in 1975 on the eastern end of campus, was built on the site of Griffith Stadium, in use from the 1890s to 1965 as home of the first, second and third incarnations of the MLB Senators, as well as the NFL's Washington Redskins, several college football teams (including Georgetown, GWU and Maryland) and part-time home of the Homestead Grays of the Negro National League.
Howard University is home to WHUR-FM 96.3, also known as Howard University Radio. Howard is also home to WHUT-TV, which is a television station located on campus beside WHUR-FM.
The Interdisciplinary Research Building (IRB) opened in 2016 was Howard's first new laboratory building in over 30 years. The multi-story, 81,670 square foot, state-of-the-art research facility was completed for $70 million.
The university is led by a Board of Trustees that includes a faculty trustee from the undergraduate colleges, a faculty trustee from the graduate and professional colleges serving 3-year terms, two student trustees, each serving 1-year terms, and three alumni-elected trustees, each serving 3-year terms.
Howard offers three undergraduate honors programs for its high-achieving students: the College of Arts & Sciences Honors Program, the Executive Leadership Honors Program in the School of Business, and the Annenberg Honors Program in the School of Communications.
"The Moorland-Spingarn Research Center (MSRC) is recognized as one of the world's largest and most comprehensive repositories for the documentation of the history and culture of people of African descent in Africa, the Americas, and other parts of the world. The MSRC collects, preserves, and makes available for research a wide range of resources chronicling black experiences."
The Beltsville Center for Climate System Observation (BCCSO) is a NASA University Research Center located at the Beltsville, Maryland campus of Howard University. BCCSO consists of a multidisciplinary group of Howard faculty in partnership with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Earth Sciences Division, other academic institutions, and government. This group is led by three Principal Investigators, Everette Joseph, also the director of BCCSO, Demetrius Venable and Belay Demoz. BCCSO trains science and academic leaders to understand atmospheric processes through atmospheric observing systems and analytical methods.
Howard University is home to The Hilltop, the award-winning (Princeton Review) student newspaper. Founded in 1924 by Zora Neale Hurston, The Hilltop enjoys a long legacy at the university, providing students with the ability to learn the newspaper industry.
Howard University is the publisher of The Journal of Negro Education, which began publication in 1932. The Howard University Bison Yearbook is created, edited and published during the school year to provide students a year-in-review. Howard University also publishes the Capstone, the official e-newsletter for the university; and the Howard Magazine, the official magazine for the university, which is published three times a year.
Howard University Libraries (HUL) is the library system of Howard University and is composed by eight branches and centers:The Founders Library, the main library, founded on January 1939.
The School of Business Library
The School of Divinity Library
The School of Social Work Library
The Moorland-Spingarn Research Center
The Channing Pollock Theatre Collection
The Patent and Trademark Resource Center
The Undergraduate Library (UGL).
Afro-American Studies Center.
The U.S. students come from the following regions: New England 2%, Mid-West 8%. South 22%, Mid-Atlantic 55%, and West 12%. Approximately 4% of the student body are international students. Howard University is almost exclusively (91.2%) African-American.
Howard has produced four Rhodes Scholars between 1986 and 2017.
Between 1998 and 2009, Howard University produced a Marshall Scholar, two Truman Scholars, twenty-two Fulbright Scholars and ten Pickering Fellows.
There are over 200 student organizations and special interest groups established on campus.
The student/faculty ratio at Howard is 10 to 1. Howard is a selective admissions institution.
As of 2006, Howard's six year graduation rate was 67.5%. In 2009, 1,270 of the 1,476 full-time freshmen enrolled were found to have financial need (86%). Of these, Howard could meet the full financial aid needs of 316 freshmen. Howard's average undergraduate student's indebtedness at graduation is $16,798.
Howard faculty include: member of Congress from Maryland Roscoe Bartlett, blood shipment pioneer Charles Drew, Emmy-winning actor Al Freeman Jr., suffragist Elizabeth Piper Ensley, civil rights lawyer Charles Hamilton Houston, media entrepreneur Cathy Hughes, marine biologist Ernest Everett Just, professor of surgery LaSalle D. Leffall Jr., political consultant Ron Walters, novelist and diplomat E. R. Braithwaite, filmmaker Haile Gerima, and psychiatrist Francis Cress Welsing.
Howard University is a home to all nine National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) organizations; however, it is the founding site for 5 NPHC groups. The Alpha Chapters of Alpha Kappa Alpha (1908), Omega Psi Phi (1911), Delta Sigma Theta (1913), Phi Beta Sigma (1914), and Zeta Phi Beta (1920) were established on the Howard campus. The Beta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha was the first to appear in 1907. Also in 1920, the Xi Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi appeared on the campus, followed by the Alpha Phi Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho in 1939, and the Alpha Tau Chapter of Iota Phi Theta in 1983.
Other Greek letter organizations registered at Howard include Delta Sigma Pi, Phi Sigma Pi, Alpha Phi Omega, Alpha Nu Omega, Alpha Kappa Psi, Phi Sigma Rho, Gamma Iota Sigma, Phi Mu Alpha, Sigma Alpha Iota, Gamma Sigma Sigma, Kappa Kappa Psi, Tau Beta Sigma and Phi Alpha Delta.
Howard's homecoming week is the most highly publicized and richest cultural tradition of the institution. Over 100,000 of alumni, students, special guests, and visitors are in attendance to patronize the many events and attractions affiliated with the festive week on and near campus. While the specific calendar of events changes from year to year, many of the traditional homecoming events include the Homecoming Football Game and Tailgate, the Pep Rally, the Coronation Ball, the Greek Step-Show, and the Fashion Show. After a two-year hiatus, the Yardfest also returned in 2016 as one of the cherished traditions. Howard's first official homecoming was held in 1924 and it takes place every fall semester with a new theme created by the homecoming committee.
The Bison Ball and Excellence Awards is an annual black tie gala hosted by the Howard University Student Association (HUSA). A select number of students, faculty, organizations, and administrators from the Howard community are honored for their exceptional accomplishments. This event takes place near the end of every spring semester.
Resfest week is a Howard tradition where students living in freshmen residence halls on campus compete in various organized competitions for awards and bragging rights; arguably the most coveted award is winning the Resfest Step-Show which normally involves elaborate themes and productions. This event is held every spring semester.
Howard is the alma mater of many notable individuals, including:Ben Ali, co-founder and owner of Ben's Chili Bowl, the famous restaurant in Washington, D.C.;
Choreographer, actress and singer Debbie Allen;
The first Nigerian president Nnamdi Azikiwe;
Mayor of Newark, New Jersey Ras J. Baraka;
Tami Roman, who married a basketball player
NFL player Antoine Bethea;
Civil rights leader Stokely Carmichael;
Rapper Sean Combs;
Congressman Elijah Cummings;
Actor Ossie Davis;
Former Malian prime minister and NASA engineer Cheick Modibo Diarra;
David Dinkins, the first African-American mayor of New York City;
Mike Espy, the first African-American U.S. Secretary of Agriculture;
Former Mayor of the District of Columbia Adrian Fenty;
Sociologist E. Franklin Frazier;
Actor Lance Gross;
Kamala Harris, first African-American, and first Asian-American female Attorney General & US Senator from California;
Patricia Roberts Harris, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and first African-American woman United States Ambassador;
Oscar and Emmy-Nominated and Golden Globe Winning Actress Taraji P. Henson;
Shauntay Hinton, beauty pageant winner;
Gus Johnson, sports broadcaster;
Attorney Vernon Jordan;
Television personality Ananda Lewis;
Thurgood Marshall, First African-American U.S. Supreme Court Justice;
Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize–winning author Toni Morrison;
Actress and singer Phylicia Rashad;
Charlotte E. Ray, first African-American woman lawyer;
Mayor of Atlanta, Georgia Kasim Reed;
Actress Wendy Raquel Robinson;
Book artist Clarissa Sligh;
Educator and writer Josephine Turpin Washington;
Mayor of Washington, D.C., Walter Washington;
Recording artist Crystal Waters;
Tom Joyner Morning Show producer Nikki Woods;
United States Ambassador Andrew Young.
Emmy Award nominated actor and star of the TV Show Black-ish Anthony Anderson;
Notable Howard University alumni include:
Andre Johnson in the TV Show Black-ish is a Howard University alum.
Captain Hero in the TV show Drawn Together attended Howard University.