Martin Henry Freeman

Filed in Students & alumni

The first African-American Professor and College President in American history, Martin Henry Freeman (1826-1889), the son of Charles and Patience Freeman, was born in Rutland, Vermont, on May 11, 1826.  He prepared for College with Rev. William Mitchell, Rutland, before entering Middlebury College in 1845 as a member of the Class of 1849.  Although Middlebury boasted a strong contingent of abolitionist sympathizers, Freeman experienced racial prejudice at his Junior Exhibition, when no student would process with him until classmate James Gregory (according to Gregory’s late life recollections) took his arm.

Regardless of latent racism, Freeman delivered the Salutatory address at his commencement. From 1851-1862, Freeman served as Junior Professor and advanced to President at the all-black Allegheny Institute (later Avery College), Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Freeman was cynical about the future of black Americans, especially men, and embraced and wrote about the emigration of both enslaved and free black Americans to Africa. He relocated to Liberia and from 1863-1868 was Professor of Mathematics, Liberia College in Monrovia. In 1868, he was appointed President. Primarily due to health reasons, Freeman returned occasionally to the United States. He died in Monrovia, on May 26, 1889.

Martin Freeman married Louisa Eleanor Peck on September 15, 1857. Together they had two daughters and three sons.