Four people walk past a Central State College sign onto the Wilberforce campus

Our history and traditions

Our future rises from our foundation

At Central State University, our history is our bedrock. Founded as a place of higher learning for African Americans more than 135 years ago, we have thrived against all odds. Even after a devastating tornado in 1974 destroyed most of the campus, we emerged with our spirit unbroken. Today, Central State stands proud as an 1890 Land-Grant University with our eyes on the future.

Our origins 

Central State arose from Wilberforce University — the nation’s oldest private Historically Black College or University (HBCU) and a prominent stop on the Underground Railroad. Named for British abolitionist William Wilberforce, it was founded by the African Methodist Episcopal Church as a “refuge from slavery’s first rule: ignorance.” Today, we continue this proud legacy, preparing young people to lead and uplift the world.

1887: Our founding

Central State began as the combined Normal and Industrial Department in 1887. The state legislature established the department on the Wilberforce campus and initially offered teacher training and vocational coursework. 


60 years of advancement

The Institution thrived as students trained to become teachers, blacksmiths, auto mechanics, shoemakers, and carpenters — with some even helping to build campus facilities. In 1941, our mission expanded to offer four-year degrees in education.


1951: An independent college

With the construction of Banneker Hall — which housed laboratories and a greenhouse — and the addition of a liberal arts program, we pushed for independence from Wilberforce. In 1951, we gained it, changing our name to Central State College under the leadership of historian Dr. Charles Wesley.


1961: A home for Marauders

Opened in 1961, Beacom Gymnasium rings with cheers for the Marauders volleyball and basketball teams. All 11 women’s and men’s athletic teams — including football, cross country, and track and field — fuel our maroon and gold pride. 


1965: Central State University

Central State University was founded by a community of free Blacks as a mecca of education. Almost a century later, we achieved formal university status. Thousands of Centralians have gone on to serve the world with their wealth of knowledge.


1974: Disaster strikes

In 1974, a severe tornado demolished 80% of the Central State University campus. But it could not destroy our Marauder spirit. Students returned to class within two weeks, watched over by our iconic 1906 clock tower — one of the few structures left unscathed.


Central State reimagined

Following the tornado, we embraced a new mission — to rebuild the campus as an ideal learning environment. Help came from many areas, including the American Red Cross, several Ohio universities, and alums including celebrated jazz singer Nancy Wilson.


1987: A moment in time

During our 1987 centennial celebration, we buried a time capsule in the heart of the CSU campus: the Sunken Garden. The site hosts our most solemn annual ceremonies, where freshmen become Marauders and graduating seniors become Centralians. 


1994: CSU Chorus glory

With a repertoire that ranges from spirituals to gospel to jazz and beyond, the renowned CSU Chorus hit new highs in 1994 with a Grammy nomination and a performance in Washington, D.C., to honor the 30th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. 


2005: Starring the Invincible Marching Marauders

Comedian Dave Chapelle, who grew up in nearby Yellow Springs, invited Central State’s Invincible Marching Marauders to perform in his 2005 documentary, Dave Chapelle’s Block Party. In the film, our legendary marching band plays alongside Kanye West, Erykah Badu, The Roots, and other top performers. 


2014: Land-Grant at last

We sought Land-Grant status for more than 120 years before achieving it in 2014. This federal designation puts Central State in the ranks of distinguished HBCUs known as 1890 Universities, charged with expanding agricultural research and education. 


Looking to the future

Central State University earned top HBCU honors from HBCU Digest in 2017 and continues to thrive under the leadership of President Jack Thomas, Ph.D. New partnerships with Apple, Honda, and others are advancing STEM education while our Land-Grant status empowers us to deliver new knowledge to our community, state, and nation. Central State's vision for the future is innovation and education that prepare our students and communities for a globalized future driven by technology.