Morrill Act of 1890

Charlene Clark





Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont introduced the Morrill Act, also known as the Land Grant College Act.   The Second Morrill Act of August 30, 1890, was an act to apply a portion of the proceeds of the public lands to the more complete endowment and support of colleges for the benefit of agriculture and the mechanic arts established under the provisions of an act of Congress approved July 2, 1862.


Historical Context of the Day


At the time America was becoming an established society and the economy was primarily agricultural based.  Most people lived in rural areas and a significant number of people relied upon agriculture for their livelihood.  In the mid 1800s, the rural population in the United States was over 80% and over 95% for Florida.  By the 1860s, higher education was becoming more accessible, and many politicians and educators wanted to make it possible for all American to receive an education.


Congress passed the First Morrill Act of 1862, which gave to every state that had remained in the Union a grant of 30,000 acres of public land for every member to its congressional delegation based on the 1860 census.  The states were to sell this land and use the proceeds to establish colleges that would educate people in agriculture, home economics and mechanical arts and other profession.

In the beginning, not every one benefited form the land-grant system.  Under the conditions of legal separation of the races in the South, African Americans were not permitted to attend the original land-grant institutions.  Although the Morrill Act of 1862 authorized “separate but equal” facilities, only Mississippi and Kentucky established institutions for African American under this law, and only Alcorn State University, Lorman, Mississippi was designated as a land-grant institution. 

From 1866 to 1890, several southern states established normal schools to train African American teachers.  Although many of these institutions were similar to the land-grant universities, the federal government was unable to gain cooperation from the southern states in the provision of land-grant support to the African American institutions. 









About the Morrill Act of 1890


It was evident that the First Morrill Act did not provide enough funds to adequately establish new colleges.  Senator Morrill introduced twelve bills to Congress between the years 1872 and 1890 in an attempt to obtain more money to support land-grant colleges.


Finally on August 30, 1890, congress passed the Second Morrill Act, which specified that states that maintained separate colleges for different races had to propose a just and equitable division of the funds to be received under the act. Any states that had used their 1862 funds entirely for the education of white students was forced to either open their facilities to black students or to provide separate facilities for them. 


This act served to establish sixteen black land-grant colleges throughout the South.  These universities became known as “The 1890 Land-Grant Institutions.”  Each of those southern states that did not have an African American college by 1890 established one later under the Second Morrill Act.


The Black land-grant institutions have had a prominent role in various areas of research.

These institutions have studied ways to boost the productivity of grain legumes--peanuts, soybeans, pigeon peas and dry beans--to help alleviate poverty in developing nations; synthesized a series of oxygen-carrying protein complexes that have the potential to serve as blood substitutes in the treatment of sickle cell anemia; and developed new composite alloys for use in outer space and earth-based activities.


From these humble beginnings, the 1890 Institutions evolved into a major educational resource for the nation.  For over a century, they have provided a principal means of access to higher education for African American men and women.  Today, although their programs are available to all person regardless or race, sex, creed or socioeconomic status, the 1890 Institutions still continue to be a key source of African American leaders who render valuable service to their communities, the nation, and the world.

These universities have produced some prominent leaders who have made significant contributions from all fields of endeavors--leaders such as:

§         Steve McNair, quarterback,  took the Tennessee Titans to Super Bowl XXXIV, Alcorn State University.

§         Wiley Austin Branton, Sr. nationally recognized civil-rights attorney and confidant to Associate Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

§         Ralph Waldo Ellison, nationally recognized writer, Tuskegee University.

§         Daniel J. "Chappie" James, Jr., four star general, U.S. Air Force and commander-in-chief of the American Air Defense Command, Tuskegee University.

§         Jesse Jackson, former presidential candidate and civil-rights leader, North Carolina A&T State University

§         Congressman Ed Towns, U.S. House of Representatives, North Carolina A&T State University.

§         Ronald McNair, astronaut who died abroad the space shuttle Challenger, North Carolina A&T State University.

§         Congressman Harold Ford, U.S. House of Representatives, Tennessee State University.

§         Wilma Rudolph, the first American woman to win three Olympic gold medals, Tennessee State University.

Although Tuskegee University is not a land-grant institution, despite the fact that it was granted 25,000 acres of land by us U.S. Congress in 1899.  Because Tuskegee has espoused the land-grant philosophy throughout its history, it traditionally has been associated with the African American land-grant institutions. 




Christy, Ralph D & Williamson, Lionel (1992) A Century of Service: Land Grant Colleges & Universities, 1890-1990.

Transaction Publishers


Cross, Coy F II, (1999) Justin Smith Morrill: Father of the Land-Grant Colleges.

Michigan State University Press