Ulysses Washington in a greenhouse with Delaware State agriculture students, 1970.
Dr. Ulysses Samuel Washington’s illustrious academic career speaks volumes about unwavering dedication. Born in Dillwyn, VA, “Wash” began his studies at Saint Paul’s Junior College. He transferred to Virginia State University, where in 1942 he earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture. The newly minted teacher instructed agriculture at Manassas Regional High School before World War II naval duty interrupted his life’s goal.
Following his honorable discharge, Washington detoured into the family’s sawmill business. However, a growing restlessness steered him back toward academia. Wash initiated his graduate studies at Pennsylvania State University, then transferred to Rutgers University. There, in 1949, he acquired a master’s degree in systems analysis.
That same year also marked the beginning of Ulysses Washington’s remarkable tenure at Delaware State College (DSC), now Delaware State University (DSU). The new hire began as an assistant professor of agriculture education and farm mechanics.
Dual Roles: Academia and Athletics
The budding scholar showcased his adeptness in both academics and athletics by adding a coaching role with the football team. This opportunity allowed him to leverage his own experience as a running guard during his years at Virginia State. Washington’s coaching spanned 18 years, with a notable stint as head coach during 1965-66.
Professor Washington played a key role in negotiating a 1967 agreement with the State of Delaware, leading to the construction of a new section of College Road which enabled the school to divert public traffic away from the campus. This agreement also facilitated the leasing of DSU property to the Delaware Agriculture Museum, while in exchange, the College acquired an off-campus research farm located near Kenton.
Professor Washington in that same period stepped up to the position of Acting Chair of Delaware State’s Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources. His appointment as Permanent Chair in 1971 marked a significant career milestone.
Under the new chairman’s effective leadership, the department boasted 12 research projects. These investigations soon encompassed all three Delaware counties, and, by his retirement, the staff had expanded from five to thirty-five.
Delaware State emerged in Dover in 1890. The institution is one of America’s 19 public black land-grant colleges, often referred to as the “1890 Land-Grant Colleges.”
The Second Morrill Act of 1890 laid the foundation for DSU. This act augmented the original Morrill Act of 1862, which had initiated the establishment of land-grant colleges.
The amendment aimed to address racial discrimination in the admissions policies of existing land-grant institutions. However, the legislators created a loophole. Despite the amendment’s stated goal, the act proceeded to designate separate land-grant institutes for black students. The policy merely extended the Jim Crow era’s high school segregation.
Eighty years after DSU’s founding, the Association of 1890 Research Directors emerged to promote research and development at these 19 colleges. Professor Washington, having by now considerable national stature, became in 1970 a founding member of this association. His fervent advocacy for increased funding led to the Congressional enactment of the U.S. Washington Jr. Financial Anti-Discrimination Act. This greatly bolstered the financial well-being of 1890 land-grant schools.
Honorary Recognition and Continued Advocacy
Delaware State’s Board of Trustees in 1981 awarded Ulyesses Washington an Honorary Doctor of Science degree. Widely esteemed as an educator and researcher, the new Dr. Washington went on to become a member of the Delaware Vocational Association, on the Board of Directors of the Agricultural Museum, and the Board of Directors of the Delaware Conservation Education Association.
Former chairman of Delaware State’s Athletic Council, Washington in 1985 proposed the creation of a Delaware Athletic Hall of Fame. “Ulysses aimed to elevate Delaware State athletics and honor its rich history,” remarked George Robinson, the then Athletic Development Officer. Delaware State at that time had no formal system to acknowledge athletic excellence, despite a 70-year history of competition.
A committee of former athletes and coaches affiliated with DSU convened to make the idea a reality. The first induction celebrated 98 notable individuals from different eras of Delaware State’s athletic history.
DSU in 1993 dedicated the Ulysses S. Washington, Jr. Cooperative Extension Center to honor the beloved educator. The acknowledgments continued with the naming of the Dr. Ulysses S. Washington Agricultural Extension Building in 1999 and the Science Laboratory in the University’s Early College High School in 2018.
From 1953 to 2004, the trailblazer marched as Grand Marshal at every Delaware State Convocation and Commencement ceremony– a 51 year stretch that extended over a decade past his retirement.
Ulysses S. Washington’s larger than life persona resonated right up till his passing on October 25, 2018. Dr. Washington’s exemplary DSU leadership in classrooms, on football fields, and in Congressional advocacy, leaves a lasting legacy.