Leland College: Louisiana’s Lost College
Leland College was established in New Orleans during Reconstruction as federal troops moved through the South helping to open schools for freed Blacks. In 1870, the American Baptist Home Mission Society (ABHMS) trained ministers of the gospel and teachers for the school. In the basement of the Tulane Avenue Baptist Church, a group of missionaries organized Leland College and established its board of directors.
The school’s mission was “to prepare ministers and teachers to qualify men for business.”
The school was named after Lela Chamberlain, the wife of a deacon and board member, Holbrook Chamberlain; who donated money to build the school’s first building. The ABHMS and the Baptist Free Mission Society gave $12,500 each to buy 10 acres of land on Saint Charles Avenue at Wall Street. The federal government, through the Freedmen’s Aid Bureau, also gave $17,000.
In 1871, the school was opened to all people regardless of color, sex, or religion.
At first, the school was a primary grade school and soon advanced to a high school, and finally a university. By 1876, Leland included Theology and a science department. Tuition was free to theology students and others paid a small fee. The state of Louisiana contributed to the school’s operation budget. With the success of Leland College, several “feeder” schools from nearby cities were established to support their enrollment. And Leland graduates often became teachers at the feeder schools.
In 1915, a hurricane severely damaged the Leland College campus. The board of directors thought it would be too expensive to repair, opting to relocate outside of New Orleans to be more central in the state. In 1917, they purchased a farm in Alexandria, but because of the intense racism and backlash from the White residents, that site was surrendered.
Ultimately, the Board of Education was able to buy a 236-acre farm in Baker, La., 10 miles north of Baton Rouge. They used 35 acres for the new campus. Eight years later, Leland reopened.
By 1923, Leland grew a strong following and established programs and opportunities for their students to develop their mental, spiritual and physical needs with sports and especially academics. By 1942, the population had grown to 1,135 students from more than eight states.
Unfortunately, the school had financial difficulties that led to its closing. In 1959, the last class graduated from Leland College and officially closed in 1960.
Among its most notable graduates is famed college football coach Eddie Robinson.
In 1982, Leland College was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.