Founding Fathers


John Mercer Langston, the man for whom both Langston City and the university were named, was prominent in education and public affairs for a generation after the Civil War. He was born in Virginia in 1829. Both of his parents died when he was five, and he became the ward of a Colonel Gooch, of Chillicothe, Ohio, in accordance with his father’s wishes. He moved to Ohio and entered the Preparatory Department of Oberlin College at age fifteen. Later he attended the college and Oberlin Law School, being admitted to the Ohio bar in 1854.

During the Civil War; Langston served as an agent for Negro troops and helped recruit men for Ohio and
Massachusetts regiments. He served as a member of the Oberlin City a member of the Oberlin Board of Education for eleven years.

In 1868 he went to Washington, D.C., as inspector general of the Freedmen’s Bureau schools. This fed* agency included among it’s programs the supervision of an educational system for blacks. His work in th national capital brought him in close contact with General 0.0. Howard, founder and first President of Howard University. Langston organized the first Department of Law at Howard and later served as vice-president and acting president of the university.

President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Langston to the Board of Health for the District of Columbia in 1871. In 1877, President Rutherford B. Hayes asked Langston to be resident minister to Haiti and charge d’affaires in Santo Domingo. Langston served in the diplomatic corps until 1885.

Upon his return to the States in 1885, he became president of Virginia State College for Negroes. He relinquished this post in 1888 to run for Congress. He was the Republican Nominee from his Virginia District. Elected to the House of Representatives, he served from 1890 to 1891. He was unsuccessful in a re-election bid. Langston retired in Washington, D. C, and wrote a book entitled From the Virginia Plantation to the National Capitol.

Though the university of Langston, Oklahoma, was legally named the Colored Agricultural and Normal University when it came into being, it was always popularly called Langston, after the man who had become a symbol of the highest form of educational leadership. The name was officially changed in 1941 by act of the Oklahoma Legislature.

The bill changing the name was introduced in the House by Carl Morgan and in the Senate by Louis Ritzhaupt, both of Logan County. The bill was enacted by the Eighteenth Legislature and signed by Governor Leon C. Phillips on May 11,1941. The pen was presented to Langston University President G. L. Harrison. A portrait of John Mercer Langston hangs in the foyer of Langston City Hall and in the auditorium of Langston University.