DISCOVERING WILBERFORCE, OH
Named after the famous historic British statesman who was a driving force in abolishing slavery, Wilberforce is a community in Greene County located southwest of Xenia. The community is best known today for its historic African American colleges. Wilberforce has a population of about 2,270. When Wilberforce College was established there in 1856, the community also took on the same name. This community served as a major stopping point for people escaping slavery in the south on the Underground Railroad prior to the American Civil War. Historians say Wilberforce had seven stopping stations on the Underground Railroad.
The National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center is in Wilberforce. The Ohio Historical Society runs it, and its exhibits; it offers learning opportunities for the region. The Association of African American Museums is also in Wilberforce; it is funded by the private university; it works to build smaller museums up to professional capacity.
As noted above, Wilberforce has two historically black colleges. In addition to Wilberforce University (and Payne Theological Seminary), Central State University is nearby.
In 1856, Wilberforce University was set up privately as a joint project by the Methodist Episcopal Church of Cincinnati and African Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1863, the AME Church sold another property in order to buy the college after its temporary closing because of financial problems during the war. It is the first college to be owned and operated by African Americans. For many years, Bishop Daniel Payne, who led the founding and later purchasing of the college, was the school’s first president. A host of well-known scholars have taught classes there.
Among the more prominent professors was a West Point graduate and 19th-century U.S. Army officer named Charles Young. Young served with the Buffalo Soldiers in the West before teaching at Wilberforce. He was born into slavery, yet later became the highest-ranking African-American officer in the Army until after World War I. His historic residence, Youngsholm, has been recognized and established as a National Historic Landmark along with the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument.
Central State University was established by the state in 1887; it had a normal, commercial, and industrial department. As noted above, Central State is located in the community of Wilberforce near the college.
In 1947, the department included four-year programs; it was eventually established as its own separate school. After further development, in 1965 it earned university status.