The end of the Civil War came with increased opportunities for formerly enslaved people to get an education. The Library of Congress notes that slave-holding states made it illegal for enslaved people to learn to read. But during the Reconstruction era, which spanned from 1866-1877, there were efforts, especially among the religious community, to provide education opportunities for the formerly enslaved.

Dillard University was created from the merger of two institutions — New Orleans University and Straight University — that were established to educate the formerly enslaved after the Civil War, according to the school’s website

Dillard’s history page provides an in-depth look into the two institutions that merged to become Dillard. New Orleans University was founded by the Methodist Episcopal Church (now the United Methodist Church)  and Straight University was founded by the American Missionary  Association of the Congregational Church (now the United Church of Christ). Dillard’s website notes that while New Orleans University trained ministers and nurses, Straight University had a medical school and law school. 

Dillard University’s physics program is one of the top producers of African American physics graduates in the nation. Credit: Sabree Hill/Dillard University Photographer

But when Reconstruction ended, Dillard noted, it was difficult for Black people with education to get professional jobs. In addition, the two schools — New Orleans University and Straight — struggled financially.  

A group of philanthropists, including a few “prominent New Orleanians,” came up with a solution. They encouraged the two institutions to consolidate. This consolidation led to the formation of a new board of trustees, who, on June 6, 1930, as Dillard pointed out, proposed a charter for a new university. 

Dillard University mascot, Victor E. Bleu, gets the crowd pumped at a university basketball game. Credit: Sabree Hill/Dillard University Photographer

According to Dillard’s website, the school was named after James Hardy Dillard. Dillard served on the boards of several education-focused organizations and also was head of the New Orleans Public Library. The school’s history page points out that the educator helped develop the university’s seal which includes the motto: “Ex Fide Fortis.” Translated, the motto means “From Confidence Courage.” 

The new Dillard University opened its doors in 1935, the school noted. Today, the institution continues to evolve, adapting to the changing needs of its student body and the broader society by offering undergraduate and graduate programs in business, education, nursing, sciences, humanities, social sciences, and more to more than 1,200 students. 

The campus remains in its original location in the Gentilly neighborhood and continues to be “a center of excellence in the South.” 

An earlier version of this story contained unattributed information from the Dillard University website. Links and attributions have been added.

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Shannon Stecker is a creative writer, a marketing director, and a lover of stories. She has spent the past 15 years of her career in a creative space – as a print and broadcast journalist, a freelance...