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William Hooper Councill: Land Grant

Alabama A&M University began in 1875 when Alabama officials used the Morrill Act of 1862 allowing state governments to establish colleges for African American students. Alabama A&M University was one of the first seventeen new land grant black institutions founded under the Morrill Act. Under the second Morrill Act in 1890, the institution received government land-grant funds for the first time, allowing its students to study agriculture and mechanical arts. Alabama A&M University now has one of the largest graduate schools among the nation’s historically black colleges and universities, and the only one of the 1890 land-grant colleges to offer four doctorate degrees.

Justin Morrill  was born in Strafford, Vermont. Justin Smith Morrill opened the doors of higher education to millions of Americans. He retired as a gentleman at the age of 39 years to study architecture and gardening – and to build a charming 17 room gothic mansion. Morrill was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1854 as an anti-slavery Whig, and moved to U.S. Senate in 1867 as a Union Republican.

As a committed protectionist, he supported tariff legislation and also sponsored significant educational and cultural projects. He is best known as the author of the Morrill Land Grant College Act of 1862, which provided for the foundation and funding of state agricultural and mechanical colleges from the sale of public lands. This act ultimately resulted in 68 new colleges across the nation. In 1890 Morrill sponsored the second Morrill Land Grant College Act, which provided additional funding.

Other Facts

  • Alabama A&M presently manages the state’s cooperative extension system, which places agriculture extension agents in each county to assist farmers in improving production.


William Belmont Parker, The Life and Public Services of Justin Smith Morrill (1924; reprint, New York: Da Capo, 1971), 305.