Sepia toned map of Southeast Ohio
Claiming an Education: Early Black American Humanists

Educators: Advocates and Builders

Joseph Corbin Carter


Joseph Carter Corbin, portrait

OHIO’s Second Black Graduate: Joseph Carter Corbin was born in Chillicothe, Ohio, in 1833. His parents were enslaved persons in Richmond, Virginia, who moved to Ohio upon being freed. Starting at age 15, Corbin worked as a teaching assistant in Louisville, Kentucky, and because of his advanced education he was enrolled at Ohio University as a sophomore at age 17. He earned his B.A. degree in Art three years later in 1853, the second Black American to graduate from Ohio University. Returning to Louisville, he worked first as a clerk in a mercantile agency, then at a bank. 

Journalism, Politics and the Underground Railroad: Corbin also began to work for the Underground Railroad, and during the Civil War he published the Colored Citizen in Cincinnati. He moved to Arkansas in 1872 and became a reporter for the Arkansas Republican, later becoming chief clerk of the Little Rock post office. In 1873, he was elected superintendent of public education on the Republican ticket, and he successfully urged the state legislature to approve the creation of Branch Normal College at Pine Bluff as an institution to educate Black students. (It later became the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.) When the college opened in 1875, he served first as a teacher and later as its principal. 

An Intellectual Activist: Corbin was fluent in Greek, Latin, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Hebrew, and Danish, and his mathematical writings were extensively published. Leaving the Branch Normal College in 1902, he became the principal of Merrill High School in Pine Bluff and the co-founder of Teachers of Negro Youth in Arkansas, the first Black state teacher’s organization, where he also served as its first president. He died in Pine Bluff on Jan. 9, 1911.

See a Forest Park (Illinois) Review article about Corbin's burial in Forest Home Cemetary.

Watch the dedication of a historical marker for Joseph Carter Corbin on the Ohio University Chillicothe campus:


Milton Holland


Milton Hollard, in uniform

From Enslaved to Educated: Born an enslaved person in Texas in 1844, Milton Holland was freed as a boy and sent to school in Ohio at the Albany Manual Labor University. The education he received there prepared him for the variety of important roles he would fill in his life. When the Civil War began, Holland, who was light-skinned, enlisted in the army but was told he could not serve in a White unit, so he became a servant to Nelson Van Vorhes in the army.

Founding a Colored Infantry Regiment in Athens: Holland later formed a Black military unit in Albany, the Attucks Guard, training his men at the Athens fairgrounds. Following the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, which authorized the military recruitment of Black Americans, Holland recruited what would become Company C of the 5th U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment at the Athens fairgrounds. Two years later he was promoted to Sergeant Major, and on Sept. 29, 1864, he took command of his regiment after its officers had been killed or wounded and led his fellow soldiers to victory at the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm in Virginia. Singled out for his accomplishments by Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Benjamin Butler, Holland was given a battlefield promotion to the rank of captain, but the War Department subsequently refused him the commission because he was Black. He was given the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1865.


Milton Holland historical marker dedication
From left: Reenactors portraying Union troops prepare for a gun salute at a historical marker dedication ceremony. Anthony Gibbs, portraying Milton Holland, addresses the crowd at a Veterans Day event. Michael Crutcher, portraying Fredrick Douglas, unveils a historical marker. Read more about the historical marker dedication.

An Activist with a Law Degree: Returning to Ohio for a short while after his discharge, he later moved to Washington, D.C., where he earned a degree in law from Howard University in 1872. He went to work for the U.S. Treasury Department, became very active in promoting civil rights issues, and helped form several of the first Black-owned businesses. He died on May 15, 1910, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. In 2013 a historical marker was dedicated at the Athens County Fairgrounds to mark the location where Milton Holland raised Company C of the 5th U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment.