It’s African American History Month, and we’ve got all kinds of African-American history here at The Catholic University of America.
In fact, you’re standing on it. The original 65 acres purchased by the U.S. Catholic Bishops to found the University is rife with African American history. It didn’t start out that way. Initially, the first house built on the current CUA campus was built by Samuel Harrison Smith and Margaret Bayard Smith. The Smiths were invited to settle in the young capital city in 1803 by President Thomas Jefferson and found the District’s first newspaper. Later, the house passed on to James Middleton and his son Erasmus Middleton. The Middleton family held it as an estate run by enslaved people, until the Emancipation Act of 1862 (the first emancipation act in the nation, by the way) liberated the enslaved of Washington, D.C. The house eventually became part of the CUA campus and was demolished in 1970.
During the Civil War, Fort Slemmer was established on the perimeter of campus. One of 68 fortifications protecting the city during the war, the fort never saw action, but it did play its part in the Civil War.
If we fan out a bit further into Washington, we can appreciate the contributions of CUA Alumna Euphemia Lofton Haynes to African American history locally. The ambitious Euphemia Lofton graduated valedictorian of M Street High School in 1907, from Miner Normal School in 1909, and Smith College in 1914. She earned her Ph.D. in Mathematics from CUA in 1943 with a dissertation titled Determination of Sets of Independent Conditions Characterizing Certain Special Cases of Symmetric Correspondences. The degree gives her the distinction of being the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics in the United States.
Euphemia contributed quite grandly to the educational system of the District of Columbia. In 1930 Dr. Lofton Haynes created the Mathematics Department at Miner’s Teacher’s College after she became a professor there in 1930. She remained the head of the Mathematics Department for almost 30 years. When she retired in 1959 Miner’s Teachers College had become the University of the District of Columbia. She taught at all levels in the District of Columbia public school system, including elementary school, high school, and college. Her family papers can be accessed at the CUA archives.
Another native Washingtonian and alumnus of CUA left his papers to the archives just this past year. Father Cyprian Davis, author of the first history of African American Catholics in the United States, was a regular at the CUA Archives and a Benedictine monk at St. Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, Indiana. Father Davis wrote the award-winning Black Catholics of the United States, among other books on the history of African-American Catholics . Rest in Peace, Father Davis, and we will see that future researchers of African-American Catholicism have full access to your archive.