Cheyney, PA – The African Institute was the first institution of higher learning for African-Americans in this naton. Later renamed the Institute for Colored Youth, ICY was the result of a bequeathal of $10,000 from Society of Friends member and prosperous silversmith Richard Humphreys. Humphreys in his 1832 will set the money aside to, in his words create an institution “ … having for its object the benevolent design of instructing the descendants of the African Race in school learning, in the various branches of the mechanik arts and trades and in Agriculture: in order to prepare and fit and qualify them to act as teachers in such of those branches of useful business as in the Judgment of the said society they may appear best qualified for, the Said Institution to be located not far distant from the City of Philadelphia and to be under the care, management and control of such Persons only as are or may be members of the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends commonly called Quakers…”
Adhering to the directives of Humphreys’ will, the trustees used the original $10,000 and the accrued interest to formally begin operations five years after his earthly demise. After a considerable search they established the original farm school outside Philadelphia on Old York Road also called Willow Grove Turnpike in 1839. The school subsequently relocated to Philadelphia before purchasing property about twenty-five miles outside of Philadelphia from a fellow Quaker named George Cheyney in 1902.
From its inception in 1837 until 1920 the Quakers administered the school as a stand alone institution supported by the Society of Friends. It wasn’t until the early years of the twentieth century that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania provided money to support Cheyney’s mission of training teachers. The trustees had to petition the Commonwealth to appropriate money to Cheyney students like it did for the other Normal schools in the Commonwealth.
The state set a precedent it would continue until literally a few years ago, that of giving Cheyney much less than they gave the other Normal and teacher training schools throughout the state. When the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania absorbed Cheyney Normal School into the other state owned Normal Schools in 1921, it continued its policy of underfunding Cheyney. Cheyney administrators were forced to make do with less yet they cultivated the best teachers anywhere!
In the mid 1960’s during the social tumult and agitation, some Cheyney students aggressively agitated for increased funding, new facilities and better treatment by the Commonwealth. In response to our demonstrations, sit-ins, building takeovers and media exposure the Commonwealth began to pour additional funds into Cheyney. Even so, the state still did not provide equal funding or support to Cheyney compared to the other thirteen schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE).
A successful Federal law suit filed by students and faculty in 1983 and subsequent threats to withhold federal funding in 1993 by the federal government forced Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge to agree to appropriate $35 million dollars to bring the needed improvements and programs to Cheyney. Keep in mind this was money owed from the 1960’s and 1983 federal lawsuit!
But again the Commonwealth reneged on its promises. Faced with falling enrollment, declining infrastructural conditions, rising indebtedness and state sanctioned and appointed administrative incompetence, in 2014 a grass roots coalition of alumni, students and higher education advocates called Heeding Cheyney’s Call sued Governor Tom Corbett, PASSHE and their Board of Governors for redress and relief. A few months after the suit was filed, Corbett lost his bid for re-election and incoming Governor Tom Wolf indicated he wanted to do the right thing and save Cheyney.
Decades of willful neglect, discriminatory underfunding, knowingly installing weak and incompetent administrators, resulted in Cheyney’s physical and fiscal infrastructure being severely compromised and undermined. With assistance from local Black elected officials, Heeding Cheyney’s Call (the name activists chose) were able to persuade Governor Wolf and PASSHE to appoint a president capable of doing what was necessary to turn Cheyney around. Aaron Walton who had served on the PASSHE Board of Governors for several decades was the person selected.
President Walton has been on the job less than two years but has taken the challenge head on and is making major progress. He is rectifying the failures and mismanagement of the past, he is providing stable leadership and fiscal responsibility, he and his team are aggressively rebranding the university and establishing strategic partnerships with other institutions and businesses in the region and he is gradually improving the culture on the campus.
The Cheyney Foundation, the university’s Council of Trustees and the Cheyney University National Alumni Association are collaborating on an aggressive nation wide fund raising campaign called The Resurgence. The goal is to raise four million dollars by June 1, 2019; one point five million from each constituent group. The money will help balance this year’s budget, put the university on sound fiscal footing to ensure Middle States grants full accreditation.
Cheyney needs and deserves our help. You don’t have to be a graduate of Cheyney to contribute; you don’t have to live in Pennsylvania to help, you don’t have to have attended an HBCU; all you have to do is be willing to give money towards the four million goal. There are numerous giving levels so please contribute whatever you can. You can donate Online at http://www.cheyneyfoundation.org/ways to give/give.
Just as Bennett College was forced to go to court to prevent the regional Southern accrediting agency from denying full accreditation even after they raised over ten million dollars, Daniel Greenstein the Chancellor of PASSHE stated publically he wanted to close Cheyney and turn it into a two year technical school. This despite the fact President Walton is working diligently to resolve all the conditions preventing Middle States from granting Cheyney full accreditation! But the alumni and people like you can derail his nefarious agenda and be a part of the Cheyney’s resurgence and renaissance. Search your heart, make a sacrifice for future generations and keep the legacy of Richard Humphreys alive! We will keep you abreast of our campaign.
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