Mr. Bishop of Georgia. Mr. Speaker, I rise today in proud recognition of 1890s Day, which commemorates an influential piece of legislation that took effect 125 years ago yet is still very relevant today.
In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act into law with the intention of giving federal land grants to states so that they would in turn sell them to establish “land-grant” universities with the funds. Academically, these institutions were to specialize in fields such as agriculture, military strategy, and engineering, initiatives that would have a distinct impact on local economies and technological developments in years to come.
Twenty-eight years later, the second Morrill Act of 1890 was enacted and we celebrate that moment today. It was significant because it specifically addressed the former Confederate States. In order to combat extensive racial discrimination faced by African Americans in the post-Civil War South, the Act required that States wishing to receive federal support must either omit entry restrictions based on skin color at their universities entirely, or else establish separate institutions specifically designed to accommodate African Americans. Many historically black colleges and universities came into existence as a result of this rule.
Prior to the Civil Way, there were few opportunities for African Americans to receive a higher education. Those African Americans who did receive such schooling studied at home or in informal settings. In fact, during the era of slavery, it had been a crime to instruct an African American in anything except the most rudimentary skills.
Within the Second Congressional District of Georgia, one concrete outcome of this landmark legislation was the 1895 founding of Fort Valley High and Industrial School, which would later become Fort Valley State College and, finally, Fort Valley State University. This historically African-American institution remains Georgia’s only 1890 land-grant university.
Proving itself over decades of scholastic distinction and educating thousands of students in the sciences as well as the arts, this renowned establishment is still alive and flourishing today. It was all made possible through that groundbreaking decision made more than a century ago. Since the 1890 Act directly addressed concerns of discrimination against African Americans, it has served to provide opportunities for all students, regardless of their race.
Mr. Speaker, it is indeed my privilege to bring attention to this important day, and to recognize the changes the Morrill Act of 1890 has brought to our communities and to our nation. For it is through the diversity and the inspiration of our youth that we are able to grow as a society, in innovation and in hope. Let us celebrate these developments today and anticipate a bright future to come tomorrow.