Cheyney, the First HBCU

Even before slavery was abolished, a movement began in America to properly educate the black population of the country. The first of these institutions was established in 1837, The Institute for Colored Youth, by funding from Quaker Richard Humphreys. A budding philanthropist, Humphreys gave 1/10th of his estate to establish a school for the “descendents of the African race.”

Renamed Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, the school is the oldest Historically Black University in the country and has been granting degrees since 1914. At first the school taught trades and agriculture, the predominate skill set needed at the time. Now, Cheyney boasts a coarse catalogue that ranges from a variety of majors and minors like accounting, computer science, psychology, teaching, and hotel management. Cheyney University has grown beyond Richard Humphrey’s initial vision. Their students represent a wide variety of races and cultures and nationalities.

Some of Cheyney’s most renowned alumni include 1858’s Class valedictorian, Octavius Catto, was instrumental in getting the 15th Amendment passed. The amendment allowed Black men to vote. Catto also founded the Pythians, one of the country’s first all black baseball teams. Other notable alumni are Bayard Rustin (1937), an openly gay Civil Rights activist; former 60 Minutes journalist, Ed Bradley (1964); Jim Ellis (1972), subject of the Terence Howard movie, Pride; and most recently, Detroit Lions’ Dominque Curry.

No school is complete without a sound athletics department, and the Cheyney Wolves NCAA men’s basketball team is no exception. The Wolves are 7th all – time in win percentage and have won 15 Penn State Athletic Conference Titles, as all as 9 East Regional Championships and the holy grail of college sports, the Final Four two years in a row in 1978-79 and again in 1986. The female Wolves aren’t far behind with Final Four wins in ’82 and ’84 and PSACs from 1980–1983. In 2009, Cheyney hired Dominque and Marilyn Stephens, the first ever brother and sister coaching duo.