From its beginnings, Dillard University has lived a saga of human determination and the appreciation of shared endeavors. The story begins well before the Civil War when enslaved and free Blacks in New Orleans longed for their children to be classically educated, able to take their rightful places as ministers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, business people and leaders in their communities. Secret and illegal “native schools” were put in place in response to these hopes. When the end of the Civil War rendered “legalized” formal education for African Americans a possibility, the Methodist Episcopal Church (now the United Methodist Church) immediately founded the Freedmen’s Aid Society and undertook to add their support to the existing efforts to make a comprehensive education available to African Americans in the South. In New Orleans, the Thomson Biblical Institute was established for the education of ministers and, in 1869, the Institute became the Bible department of a larger effort: Union Normal School. In that same year, just a month before the founding of Union Normal, the American Missionary Association of the Congregational Church (now the United Church of Christ) also established a school for African Americans in New Orleans: Straight University. The school was named for the Honorable Seymour Straight, a Baptist layman, educator, New Orleans City Council member and uncompromising opponent of slavery. The two schools were subsequently renamed New Orleans University and Straight College, respectively.
Straight College added a law department in 1874. Although this effort was discontinued after 1886, its graduates continued doing important work; Straight College graduates Louis A. Martinet and Rudolphe L. Desdunes argued the landmark Plessy vs. Ferguson case before the United States Supreme Court in 1896.
New Orleans University added a secondary school, Gilbert Academy, and in 1889 the University responded to the need for medical care and medical education for African Americans by opening a medical department which included a school of pharmacy and a school of nursing. The medical department was named Flint Medical College and the affiliated hospital was named the Sara Goodridge Hospital and Nurse Training School. This was the first Baccalaureate nursing program in the State of Louisiana. The medical college was discontinued in 1911, but the hospital, including the nursing school, was continued under the name Flint-Goodridge Hospital.
By the 1930’s, the Great Depression, the burden of Jim Crow segregation and a mutuality of purpose prompted the two schools to begin planning a merger. This effort was fully accomplished by 1935. In that year, the State of Louisiana issued a charter for Dillard University, named for distinguished academician and active proponent of the education of African Americans, James Hardy Dillard. The trustees of the new university called for the implementation of a coeducational, interracial school, serving a predominantly (but not exclusively) African-American student body adhering to Christian principles and values. A decision was made to continue both Church relationships; on a new site and with a new physical plant in the Gentilly area of New Orleans, Dillard University began instruction. Dillard trustees elected to continue the work of the hospital; the University operated Flint-Goodridge Hospital of Dillard University from 1932 until 1983.
In 2005, flooding following Hurricane Katrina affected more than 80% of the city of New Orleans including most of the campus. Despite the effects of a disaster of historic proportions, Dillard survived and today is positioned to continue its mission of scholastic pursuits and excellence.
Today two new state-of-the-art buildings have been erected signifying the university’s continued resurgence and growth. These facilities include the $38.5 million, 130,000 square-foot Professional Schools and Sciences building (LEED® Gold Registered) and the $15 million, 55,000 square foot Student Union, Health and Wellness Building, which opened for use in May 2010 and May 2011 respectively. Today, Dillard is better equipped to address the educational, social, wellness and wholeness needs of Dillard students, and others, more than ever before.
Much of this material can be found in: Louise Bernard & Radiclani Clytus; John Baker Brown, Mildred Robertson & Cesily Roberts (eds.); Dorothy Smith and David Organ (research). “Within These Walls: A Short History of Dillard University.”
Dillard University Presidents
1935 - 1936: Will W. Alexander (acting)
1936 - 1940: William Stuart Nelson
1941 - 1969: Albert Dent
1969 - 1973: Broadus N. Butler
1973 - 1974: Myron F. Wicke (acting)
1974 - 1997: Samuel DuBois Cook
1997 - 2004: Michael L. Lomax
2004 - 2005: Bettye Parker Smith (interim)
2005 - 2011: Marvalene Hughes
2011 - 2012: James E. Lyons, Sr., (interim)
2012 - present: Walter M. Kimbrough
Dillard University is located in New Orleans, Louisiana, a metropolitan area with a population over 1.2 million. New Orleans is situated on the Mississippi River, 50 miles above the Gulf of Mexico. The ports along the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Baton Rouge comprise the world’s busiest port system.
Long referred to as one of the nation’s most interesting cities, New Orleans is one of the few cities which has been successful in retaining a major portion of its historical past. Indeed, the famous Vieux Carre, or French Quarter, is a veritable living museum. New Orleans has an unmatched charm, punctuated by exciting annual events such as Mardi Gras and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (JazzFest). The city also boasts numerous parks, libraries, museums, art galleries, theatres, opera companies, a nationally known symphony orchestra, and the Louisiana Superdome, one of the nation’s premier facilities for sporting and musical events.
According to the United States Census Bureau, New Orleans is one of the nation’s fastest growing large cities. New Orleans is an educational center, home to numerous institutions of higher learning, graduate and professional schools. Moreover, New Orleans is the state’s medical, cultural, banking and judicial center. The city was ‘multi-cultural’ from its earliest days, and its African, European, Caribbean and Central and South American mix has resulted in a rich social milieu punctuated with good food, marvelous music, engaging performance art and a deep appreciation of the joy of being unique. Dillard University’s convenient location in the Gentilly area, combined with the local transit system, makes access to most places and events easy and economical for students.