The Senate last week passed a bill that makes modest modifications to farm programs and which now heads to the House.
The legislation renews farm programs such as crop insurance and land conservation. Farm programs are set to expire Sept. 30 unless Congress acts.
But one of the things in that bill, thanks to the efforts of Ohio’s two senators, has corrected an oversight that excluded financial benefits for one of the state’s two historically black universities.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from the Cincinnati area, and Sherrod Brown, a Cleveland Democrat, worked together to secure an amendment to the farm bill for Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio.
In a joint news release on the bipartisan effort, the senators said that for more than 100 years, Central State was denied 1890 land-grant status, meaning it was ineligible for funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for its innovative scientific research.
Portman and Brown, along with Ohio U.S. Reps. Marcia Fudge, Joyce Beatty and Mike Turner, “helped correct that injustice in the last farm bill in 2014 by ensuring Central State received land-grant status.”
Now, Brown and Portman have secured in this year’s Senate farm bill an amendment that would increase the amount of funding for schools with 1890 land-grant status to ensure that Central State will be able to receive equitable funding from the USDA, while not jeopardizing the funding of any other schools.
“Central State University serves an important role in food and ag [agriculture] research and development in Wilberforce and throughout Ohio,” Portman said in the release. “Central State deserves to be treated in the same way as other historically black colleges when it comes to accessing federal funding under the farm bill, and I was pleased this important amendment was included.”
Brown added, “Our amendment is a common-sense fix to a historical oversight, to make sure one of Ohio’s great universities gets its fair share of federal education dollars.”
According to the Association of Public & Land Grant Universities, a land-grant college or university is an institution that has been designated by its state Legislature or Congress to receive the benefits of the Morrill Acts of 1862, 1890 and 1994.
The original mission of these institutions, as set forth in the first Morrill Act, was to teach agriculture, military tactics and the mechanical arts as well as classical studies so members of the working classes could obtain a liberal, practical education.
The second Morrill Act in 1890 sought to extend access to higher education by providing additional endowments for all land grants, but prohibiting distribution of money to states that made distinctions of race in admissions.
States that provided a separate land-grant institution for blacks, however, were eligible to receive the funds. The institutions that, as a result of this act, were founded or designated the land-grant for blacks in each of the then-segregated Southern states came to be known as “the 1890 land-grants.”
Central State actually began as part of Wilberforce University, which was established in 1856 by the Methodist Episcopal Church near Xenia in southwest Ohio near Dayton.
Wilberforce was established to provide black people access to a college education. The university was the first private, historically African-American college formed in the United States.
According to Ohio History Central.org, the African Methodist Episcopal Church acquired Wilberforce in 1863. Wilberforce had closed in 1862, mainly because many blacks ended up enlisting in the Union army in the Civil War.
In 1887, Ohio began to provide Wilberforce with state funds to help finance the institution. The state also helped the university create a Combined Normal and Industrial Department that eventually evolved into Central State University.
CSU has had its share of misfortune – half the campus was leveled by a tornado in 1974 – and financial challenges. It also had struggled to maintain its accreditation.
The good news is CSU has weathered the storm, is now on better financial footing and continues to be a beacon of black American higher education. In fact, Ohio History Central.org says CSU has stepped up its recruitment of Latinos nationwide to attend the school.
The school’s most prominent alumni include jazz singer Nancy Wilson, opera singer Leontyne Price (Wilberforce also claims her as an alum), and Hastings Kamuzu Banda, the first president of the African nation of Malawi.
Getting the land-grant status and the amendment by Brown and Portman to increase funding will help improve the school’s financial stability.
GOP aides said the farm bill is expected to go to conference, where Senate and House leadership will try to reconcile their differences.
Ernie Brown Jr., a regional editor at The Vindicator, writes a monthly minority-affairs column. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.