In 1861, the origin of Hampton University begins when Mary Peake, a free Negro, teaches refugees of the American Civil War under an oak tree. This tree would later be known as the Emancipation Oak–the location of the first Southern reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. In 1863, General Butler founded the Butler School for Negro Children where students were taught reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, and grammar, as well as various housekeeping skills. Funding was procured from the American Missionary Association and on April 1, 1868, Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute was opened. The purpose of the institution was “to train selected Negro youth who should go out and teach and lead their people first by example, by getting land and homes; to give them not a dollar that they could earn for themselves; to teach respect for labor, to replace stupid drudgery with skilled hands, and in this way to build up an industrial system for the sake not only of self-support and intelligent labor, but also for the sake of character.” In essence, practical experience in trades and industrial skills were emphasized over more liberal arts studies. This was the educational home of Booker T. Washington, who later helped found Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. After expanding its programs significantly, Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute became Hampton Institute. The school didn’t become Hampton University until 1984.
Notable Alumni Include: Booker T. Washington; Harlem Renaissance muralist John T. Biggers; DJ Envy; and comedian, Wanda Sykes.