Charles Augustus Thompson


Charles Augustus Thompson is believed to be the first African-American to graduate from the University.

Thompson, who had lived previously in Buffalo and Memphis, Tennessee, attended Buffalo Normal School and Buffalo State College before enrolling at Rochester. In a survey of seniors in the Campus (forerunner of the Campus Times), he was one of only three students (out of a class of 34) to wholly support his own education.

‘Eclectic’ coursework

Thompson was admitted to the University as a freshman, but a faculty committee allowed him to spend his first year studying in Memphis.

When he came to Rochester as a sophomore, he took courses in Latin, French, math, German, botany, composition and elocution, and democratic and Greek history. As a junior, he transferred from the classical track of coursework to the “eclectic,” and took a mix of classical and scientific coursework over three terms: logic, mechanics, Greek, rhetoric, physics, chemistry, history, astronomy, and Latin. As a senior, he took psychology, Roman law, geology, ethics, history, history of philosophy, political economy, analytical chemistry, and physiology.


After earning his bachelor’s degree at Rochester, Thompson studied theology in Memphis and then served as principal at the Porter School there from 1892 to 1907. He continued to study—at the Howe Institute, Howard Medical College, and Central Chiropractic College—and to teach, and later preach. He was pastor of Fairmount Heights Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., from 1913 to 1915. He also was a chiropractic practitioner.

Rochester legacy

The David T. Kearns Center for Leadership and Diversity in Arts, Sciences, & Engineering has hosted a Charles Augustus Thompson Lecture Series in his honor. The series featured scholars contributing to current literature on issues of race, ethnicity, gender, and identity.

The Male Minority Leadership Association, a University affinity group, also hosts an annual Charles Augustus Thompson Gala to honor and celebrate the group’s mentors and mentees.


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