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Hampton University is a historically black university located in Hampton, Virginiamarker, United Statesmarker.


The campus overlooking the northern edge of the harbor of Hampton Roadsmarker was founded on the grounds of "Little Scotland", a former plantation in Elizabeth City County not far from Fort Monroemarker and the Grand Contraband Camp, each tangible symbols of freedom for former slaves shortly after the end of the American Civil War.

First led by former Union General Samuel C. Armstrong, among the school's famous alumni is educator Dr. Booker T. Washington. Under what is now called the Emancipation Oak tree, Mary Smith Peake taught the first classes on September 17, 1861, in defiance of a Virginia law against teaching slaves, free blacks and mulattos to read or write, a law which had cut her own education short years earlier. Several years later, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was read to local freedmen under the same historic tree, which is still located on the campus today, and also serves as a symbol for the modern City of Hampton.

Civil War

During the American Civil War (1861–1865), Union-held Fort Monroemarker in southeastern Virginiamarker at the mouth of Hampton Roadsmarker became a gathering point and safe haven of sorts for fugitive slaves. These individuals were labeled "contraband of War by the commander, General Benjamin F. Butler, and thereby safe from return to slave owners. As large numbers of individuals sought status as contrabands, they built the Grand Contraband Camp nearby from materials reclaimed from the ruins of Hampton, which had been burned by retreating Confederates.

Hampton University can trace its roots to the work of Mary S. Peake of Norfolk which began in 1861 with outdoor classes taught under the landmark Emancipation Oak in the nearby area of Elizabeth City County adjacent to the old sea port of Hamptonmarker. The newly-issued Emancipation Proclamation was first read to a gathering under the historic tree there in 1863.

Beginnings after the War: teaching teachers

An 1899 class in mathematical geography
After the War, a normal school ("normal" meaning to establish standards or norms while educating teachers) was formalized in 1868, with former Union Brigadier General Samuel C. Armstrong (1839–1893) as its first principal. The new school was established on the grounds of a former plantation named "Little Scotland" which had a view of the great harbor of Hampton Roads. It was legally chartered in 1870 as a land grant school, and was first known as "Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute."

Typical of traditionally Indian, Mulatto and Black colleges and universities, Hampton received much of its financial support in the years following the Civil War from church groups and former officers and soldiers of the Union Army. One of the many Civil War veterans who gave substantial sums to the school was General William Jackson Palmer, a Union cavalry commander from Philadelphiamarker, who later built the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, and founded Colorado Springs, Coloradomarker. As the Civil War began in 1861, although his Quaker upbringing made Palmer abhor violence, his passion to see the slave free compelled him to enter the war. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery in 1894. (The current Palmer Hall on the campus is named in his honor.)

Students in an 1899 bricklaying class
Unlike the wealthy Palmer, Sam Armstrong was the son of a missionary to the Sandwich Islands (which later became the U.S. state of Hawaiimarker). However, he also had dreams and aspirations for the betterment of the newly freed slaves. He patterned his new school in the manner of his father, who had overseen the teaching of reading, writing and arithmetic to the Polynesians. He also felt it was important to add the skills necessary to be self-supporting in the impoverished South. Under his guidance, a Hampton-style education became well-known as an education that combined cultural uplift with moral and manual training, or as Armstrong was fond of saying, an education that encompassed "the head, the heart, and the hands."

At the close of its first decade, the school reported a total admission in the ten years of 927 students, with 277 graduates, all but 17 of whom had become teachers. Many of them had bought land and established themselves in homes; many were farming as well as teaching; some had gone into business. Only a very small proportion had failed to do well. By another 10 years, there had been over 600 graduates. In 1888, of the 537 of them alive, three-fourths were teaching, and about half as many undergraduates were also currently teaching. It was estimated that 15,000 children in community schools were being taught by Hampton's students and alumni that year.

Booker T. Washington: spreading the educational work

Among Hampton's earliest students was Booker T. Washington, who arrived from West Virginiamarker in 1872 at the age of 16. He worked his way through Hampton, and then went on to attend Wayland Seminary in Washington D.C. After graduation there, he returned to Hampton and became a teacher. Upon recommendation of Sam Armstrong to founder Lewis Adams and others, in 1881, Washington was sent to Alabamamarker at age 25 to head another new normal school. This new Institution eventually became Tuskegee Universitymarker. Embracing much of Armstrong's philosophy, Washington built Tuskegee into a substantial school and became nationally famous as an educator, orator, and fund-raiser as well. He started work which ultimately caused over 5,000 small community schools to be built for the betterment of black education in the South.

Native Americans

In 1878, Hampton established a formal education program for Native Americans, beginning the Institute's lasting commitment to serving a multicultural population. Recent initiatives have proven unsuccessful in renewing the interest of indigenous people in Hampton. (Virginia has two reservations, and a growing number of recognized Native American tribes). There are a number of grave markers in the university cemetery that display the diversity of tribes that attended the school.

Name changes, expansion, community

Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute became simply Hampton Institute in 1930 and became Hampton University in 1984. Originally located in Elizabeth City County, it was long-located in the town of Phoebusmarker, which was incorporated in 1900. Phoebus and Elizabeth City County were consolidated with the neighboring City of Hamptonmarker to form a much larger independent city in 1952. The City of Hampton uses the Emancipation Oak on its official seal. From 1960 to 1970, noted diplomat and educator Jerome H. Holland was president of the Hampton Institute.

The school is informally called simply "Hampton" or "HU" by many students, faculty and supporters. Hampton University and Howard University constantly claim the title, "The Real HU". Both schools enjoy the friendly rivalry.


The campus contains several buildings that contribute to its National Historic Landmark district: Virginia-Cleveland Hall (freshman female dormitory, as well as home to the school's two cafeterias), Wigwam building (home to administrative offices), Academy Building (administrative offices), Memorial Chapel (religious services) and the President's Mansion House.

The original Phenix High School on the campus became Phenix Hall when Hampton City Public Schoolsmarker opened a new Phenix High School in 1959. Phenix Hall received minor fire damage on June 12, 2008.

The Emancipation Oak was cited by the National Geographic Societymarker as one of the 10 great trees in the world.

National Historic Landmark District

A portion of the campus along the Hampton River, including many of the older buildings, is a U.S. National Historic Landmark District. Buildings included are:
  • Mansion House, original plantation residence of Little Scotland
  • Virginia Hall built in 1873
  • Academic Hall
  • Wigwam
  • Marquand Memorial Chapel, a Romanesque Revival red brick chapel with a tower
In addition, although Cleveland Hall, Ogden, and the Administration building have less historical significance, they are also included in the district.

The district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969, and was further declared a National Historic Landmark in 1974.

Student activities


Athletics logo

In 1995, Hampton joined the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, commonly referred to as the MEAC. Since joining, Hampton has won dozens of MEAC titles in football, men's and women's basketball, men's and women's track, and men's and women's tennis. In March 2001, the men's basketball team made NCAA Tournament history, becoming only the fourth 15th-seeded team to defeat a 2nd-seeded team. Hampton defeated Iowa State, 58–57 on March 15, but lost to Georgetown two days later. The win still makes SportsCenter's Top 10 NCAA tournament upsets.

Rivals include Norfolk State Universitymarker, located across Hampton Roadsmarker in downtown Norfolk, and Howard Universitymarker in Washington, D.C.marker

Hampton's colors are blue and white, and their nickname is the "The Pirates". Hampton sports teams participate in NCAA Division I (I-AA for football) in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) in which they joined in 1995 after leaving the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association. Since joining, Hampton has won MEAC titles in many sports, including football, men's and women's basketball, men's and women's track, and men's and women's tennis. In 2001, the Hampton basketball team won its first NCAA Tournament game, when they beat Iowa Statemarker 58–57, in one of the largest upsets of all time. The "Lady Pirates" basketball team saw great success during the early-2000s, and made trips to the NCAA tournament in 2000, 2003, and 2004. In 1988, as a Division II school, the Lady Pirates won the D2 national championship, defeating West Texas Statemarker.

They won their conference in football in 1997, shared one in 1998 and 2004, and won the conference out right in 2005, 2006. From 2004 to 2007, the university's football team saw much success. The team won 3 MEAC Championships, 3 SBN-Black College National Championships, and was ranked in the Division I FCS top 25 poll each year. The Pirates also sent five players to the NFL Combine in 2007, the most out of any FCS subdivision school for that year. They have also been dominant in tennis winning the MEAC from 1996-1999, 2001-2003 & 2007 for the men and 1998, 2002-2004 for the women. They've also won the men's conference basketball tournament in 2001, 2002, 2006.

Notable alumni




Politics and government




{{Alum|name=Brian Custer |year=|nota=anch

WNBA Detroit Shock Head Coach

Cordell Taylor Jacksonville Jaguars 1998


  1. Our Twin Cities of the Nineteenth Century: Norfolk and Portsmouth, Their Past, Present, and Future Robert W. Lamb, Editor. Norfolk, VA: Barcroft, Publisher. 1887–8. Norfolk Landmark Steam Presses.
  2. school site
  3. Fire damages historic building on HU campus —
  4. and

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