The origional mcmicken hall

University of Cincinnati Joins Universities Studying Slavery

Announcement by Provost Kristi A. Nelson, August 21, 2018

The University of Cincinnati (UC) today announced that it has joined more than 40 higher education institutions as a member of the Universities Studying Slavery (USS). USS, evolved out of the University of Virginia, unites scholars from all types of colleges and universities to better understand the role of enslaved people within higher education and their own institutional histories.

UC’s institutional connections to slavery remain largely unexplored. To begin work, a Research Panel on University-City Relations has been established to research, document and recognize the valuable contributions of enslaved people within UC’s history. Joining the USS will strengthen the universities cross-institutional collaboration and learning with partner institutions including the University of North Carolina, Georgetown and Brown.

As the university approaches its bicentennial, this work will support UC’s mission as a comprehensive urban public research institution by addressing both historical and contemporary issues dealing with race ad inequality in higher education and in university communities.

The Research Panel on University-City Relations will also engage scholars to undertake a broad examination of UC’s relationship with the city of Cincinnati, and its African American community, to strengthen community partnerships and explore how inclusion can be activated in more innovative and impactful ways.

The Research Panel on University-City Relations

The University of Cincinnati dates to 1870, when the state of Ohio granted the city of Cincinnati the authority to create a municipally owned university. The university grew slowly until the late 1800s, when it added the Medical College of Ohio, founded in 1819, and the Cincinnati Law School, which dated to 1833. In the early 1900s, UC created a number of new colleges, including Engineering, the first in the world to offer a cooperative education, Teaching, and Business. Through much of its history, the university offered a tax-supported, free education to residents of the city of Cincinnati.

UC remained a municipal university — one of the nation’s most successful – until 1977, when the demands for growth and new facilities forced the university to join the state system of higher education. Since then, Cincinnati has been Ohio’s second largest comprehensive public university. It currently enrolls more than 45,000 students.

Although the University of Cincinnati postdates the institution of slavery, UC’s history is very much entangled in the history of unfree labor.  UC owes its existence to a slaveholder, Charles McMicken, who in 1858 bequeathed much of his landed property to the city, instructing it to create a college for “white boys and girls.” McMicken had made a fortune trading goods along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, translating commercial success into substantial real estate holdings in the city of Cincinnati, the state of Louisiana, and elsewhere.  For much of his life, McMicken spent the winter months in Louisiana, where he owned several plantations and town lots in New Orleans. McMicken owned slaves, which he freed upon his death.  The university his wealth created never officially barred African Americans from admission, as his will suggested, but it took sixteen years before an African American, Henry Malachi Griffin, graduated.

In 2019, the university will mark its bicentennial, celebrating the 1819 creation of the Medical College of Ohio and Cincinnati College, which became part of UC in 1896. During the bicentennial year – and undoubtedly after — a committee will direct a study of the university’s engagement with the community over the course of its history, in the present, and into the future.  Of particular interest will be the ways the university has served the African American community, which has always constituted a much larger percentage of the city’s population than the university’s student body or faculty.   

Members, Research Panel on University-City Relations

David Stradling, Associate Dean for Humanities, Chair

Paul Eric Abercrumbie, Executive Director for Special Initiatives for Student Affairs

Vanessa Allen-Brown, Professor of Education

Wayne Durrill, Professor of History

Kevin Grace, UC Archivist

Greg Hand, University Spokesperson (Retired)

Lori Harris, Associate Director, Health Science Library

Emily Houh, Professor of Law

Dy’an Marinos, Office of Equity and Inclusion

Holly McGee, Professor of History

Ewaniki Moore-Hawkins, Director African American Cultural Resource Center

Gino Pasi, Archivist/Curator, Winkler Center

Christopher Phillips, Professor of History

Joseph Takougang, Professor of Africana Studies

Tracy Teslow, Professor of History

Earl Wright, Professor of Sociology