Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College is the only historically black college or university that is a system. The original campus, Southern University of New Orleans, was founded in 1880 and owes its existence to three African American political leaders: P.B.S. Pinchback, T. T. Allain, and Henry Demas. Being the second university for African Americans in Louisiana after Dillard, Southern’s founders laid the foundation for Southern’s success far in the future, “These men were political leaders and they knew that going forward, they needed to put something in law that would long last their tenures in office,” said author and historian, Dr. Charles Vincent, from a WGNO article.
One of the first men to give support to original Southern University was P.B.S. Pinchback. Before becoming one of the founders of Southern University, Pinckney Benton Steward Pinchback was one of the first African Americans to become governor in the United States and served as the 24th Governor of Louisiana and is currently the only African American governor to have ever been elected in Louisiana. Pinchback was born in Macon, Georgia to Eliza Stewart, a freed mulatto slave, and William Pinchback, a white plantation owner. Even though he was a child of mixed race, growing up he was afforded the same privileges as any other white child, which is why he was sent to study at a private school in Ohio. Though his schooling did not last long, as his father died at the age of twelve. To avoid being put back into slavery by his father’s family, his mother permanently moved them to Cinncinati.
Pinchback had to drop out of school to help take care of his family, however, he continued to make a better life for himself. In the late 1860s, Pinchback got into politics and served as a Louisiana governor in 1871. Later on, in his political career, he saw that there was a need for a better education system for African Americans, so In 1879, along with Allain and Demas, Pinchback went as a delegate to the Louisiana Constitutional Convention, where he helped gain support for the opening of the college. According to the Louisiana Secretary of State website, Pinchback “...he pushed for the creation of a college for blacks in Louisiana.” This is why along with Allain, Pinchback has a building on Southern University named after him.
Theophile T. Allain was raised as a slave on the Australian Plantation in West Baton Rouge. Like most colored children during these times, his father, Sosthene Allain, was the owner of both the plantation and of him and his mother. Even though he was a slave, his father was very affectionate towards him and gave him special privileges like eating at the table with him, traveling to Europe with him, and even ensuring him an education when he was around the age of ten years old. Things started to get better for Allain to the point when he became the owner of his father’s plantation. In 1872, Allain then got into politics and worked alongside P.B.S Pinchback. He served as a state legislator in the 14th district and helped contribute to the opening of Southern University.
The last founder of Southern University is Henry Demas. Demas was the child of slaves in the St. John the Baptist Parish. Throughout his life, he was as a slave, even when he gained the title of corporal in the American Civil War. During the Civil War Demas was allowed to have an education and was eventually freed from slavery.
P.B.S. Pinchback, T.T. Allain, and Henry Demas helped to start the Southern University legacy. Throughout the years the campus has continued growing with a new batch of students every semester to experience the SU Lifestyle. Adrian Dabney, a 25-year-old Music major, said that Southern University, “It has become a much better successful environment to learn and teach students, such as myself.” From 1880 to 2019, Southern University has become a staple in its community and for its students. Carrying on the dream of the SU founders, Southern is one of the top HBCUs in the country.