Horace Mann Bond with United Negro College Fund Presidents, Philadelphia, 1952

💌 Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.

About an hour west of Philadelphia, Lincoln University was the nation’s first degree-granting HBCU. But the school didn’t have a Black president until 1945, nearly a century after it was founded.

That president was Horace Mann Bond, a prodigious student who’d earned his own degree from the college at just 18 years old.

Bond would go on to lead Lincoln for 17 years. In the 1950s, his research helped support the winning side in the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, which established that racial segregation at schools was unconstitutional.

Also during that time, he formed a close relationship with Albert Barnes, the rich doctor and unorthodox art collector who built a world-class art collection inside his Lower Merion home. Lincoln University, which has less than 2,400 students, was willed control of the Barnes Foundation after the doctor died. The small college played a huge role in the fight against moving the collection to its current location on the Ben Franklin Parkway in Center City.

Leading the battle to keep the Barnes out of the hands of Philadelphia’s art establishment was Julian Bond, Horace Mann’s son. Eventually the two sides struck a deal, brokered by then-Gov. Ed Rendell. Bond and Lincoln allowed an expansion of the foundation’s board that took it into Philly proper, in return for millions in public funding for the school.

That was far from Julian Bond’s only claim to fame. He co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center, and was president of the civil rights nonprofit in the 1970s. He also served as chairman of the NAACP from 1998 to 2010.

Scroll down for a recap of how the family’s involvement in the American civil rights movement began at a small university in Chester County.

Avi Wolfman-Arent is co-host of Studio 2 and a broadcast anchor on 90.9 FM. He was previously an education reporter with WHYY, where he's worked since 2014. Prior to that he covered nonprofits for the...