On Nov. 7, North Carolina State University held a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, the original legislation that established land-grant universities.
President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act on July 2, 1862, putting into action the idea that regardless of economic status, a college education should be available to anyone with the ability and motivation to earn a degree. Twenty-five years later, in 1887, North Carolina State University — then the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts — was founded. North Carolina State University celebrated its 125th anniversary this year.
Called the Morrill Act for Justin Smith Morrill, a Vermont congressman who championed the bill, the law is recognized for revolutionizing higher education, as it provided each state with public lands to create universities specializing in agriculture, mechanics and military tactics.
This gave each state 30,000 acres of public land in order to be sold so that the proceeds could be used to create and fund the so-called land grant colleges. Morrill envisioned the financing of agricultural and mechanical education and wanted to assure that education would be available to those in all social classes.
In the beginning, not everyone benefited from the land-grant system. Under the conditions of legal separation of the races in the South, blacks were not permitted to attend the original land-grant institutions.
On Aug. 30, 1890, Congress passed the Second Morrill Act. This act served to establish 16 black land-grant colleges throughout the South. These universities became known as “The 1890 Land-Grant Institutions.”
In 1891, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University — then Agricultural and Mechanical College for the Colored Race — was established and became the second land-grant university in North Carolina.
The effects of the Morrill Act range from minor changes in the way education was approached to major shifts in the availability of higher education for the people. Before these land-grant colleges, higher education was a luxury afforded only to the privileged, and the main focus was the liberal arts.
The object of the Morrill Act was to provide what was termed “practical” education, like agriculture, engineering and other skills that were important with the rise of the Industrial Revolution. It also provided public research, which has led to many new discoveries and technologies used today.
I believe we should all celebrate the vision our forefathers had for the betterment of all citizens, the many accomplishments of our land-grant universities across the great land in which we live, and the positive influence the land-grant system has had on our economy.
For information, contact Mac Malloy, Extension field crops agent, at the Extension Center, at 910-671-3276, by email at Mac_Malloy@ncsu.edu, or yb visiting http://robeson.ces.ncsu.edu.