In 1869, with support from the American Missionary Association of the Congregational Church (now the United Church of Christ) and the Freedmen’s Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church (now the United Methodist Church), Straight University and the Union Normal School were founded. They were subsequently renamed Straight College and New Orleans University, respectively. Gilbert Academy, a secondary school, was a unit of New Orleans University. In 1935, New Orleans University and Straight College merged to form Dillard University. The trustees of the new university called for the implementation of a coeducational, interracial school, serving a predominantly African American student body adhering to Christian principles and values. The university was named in honor of James Hardy Dillard, a distinguished academician dedicated to educating African Americans. A new era began with the appointment of William Stuart Nelson as Dillard’s first president in 1936. A noted educator and administrator in higher education, Nelson became the first African American to lead the institution. During his four-year tenure (1936-1940), Nelson took to heart the missionary ideal of liberal arts education in a manner that would leave a lasting impression on the university’s curriculum. He was instrumental in the implementation of a major arts festival. The gathering created a venue for local artists and national figures to enjoy and debate the nature of African American art – past, present and future. Nelson sought to foster a sense of “cultural enlightenment and participation.” His dedication to the arts laid the foundation for a tradition at Dillard that extends to the present day. Dillard’s president today, Dr. Walter Kimbrough is the seventh president in the history of Dillard University. Known as the “Hip-Hop Prez,” he has demonstrated a commitment to emerging higher education trends, social media and, above all, the youth of today.
Notable Alumni: Harold Battiste, Jr.– Accomplished jazz saxophonist, composer and arranger; Jericho Brown– Award winning Poet; Ellis M. Marsalis, Jr.– accomplished jazz pianist and music educator; Garrett Morris– Comedian/ Actor; Alice Dunbar Nelson– Women’s rights activist and wife of Paul Lawrence Dunbar; Beah Richards– Broadway Actress