Dr. Inman Edward Page broke boundaries in education, leading, teaching, and inspiring thousands of students over the course of his long career. Overcoming challenges both cultural and personal, Page established a legacy that would still be inspiring people over a century later. He was born on December 29, 1853, to Horace and Elizabeth Page. The Page family was enslaved in Warrenton, Virginia until they escaped to Washington D.C. during the Civil War. There are few records left of this time in Page’s life. Inman studied at Howard University, paying his way by working as a groundskeeper and janitor. After Howard, Page became one of the first two documented Black students at Brown University. While Page dealt with discrimination from classmates and professors, his oration skills won the admiration of his class. He was selected to give the speech at his graduation in 1877, making that not only the first graduating class with Black students but also the first Class Day speech from a Black Orator.
After graduating, Page taught at the Natchez Seminary and then became president of the Lincoln Institute. During this time he married Zelia Ball and earn a master’s degree and two doctorates. In 1898, Page was selected to be the first president of the newly founded Colored Agricultural and Normal University, later changed to Langston University. Founded by Edwin P. McCabe in one of Oklahoma’s All-Black towns, Langston is Oklahoma’s only HBCU. Fitting a need, Langston provided a place for Black students to obtain higher education in the face of Oklahoma’s segregated educational system. The first class had forty-one students, and by the end of Page’s tenure Langston averaged one thousand enrolled every year. Page increased the attendance, campus size, and endowment during his seventeen-year tenure. After leaving Langston, Inman Page headed two other educational institutions before returning to Oklahoma in 1921, Western Baptist College and Roger Williams University. In 1921 Page was chosen to be principal of Douglas High School and the principal overseeing the segregated school system in Oklahoma City. He worked at Douglas until he retired in 1935, with his time in the district once again marked by growth and development. Page died in December of 1935.
Inman Page is not only remembered for his impact on education but also for his strength of character. Heading five educational institutions over the course of a career would be remarkable for anyone, much less someone who faced the challenges Dr. Page did. He consistently grew the institutions he worked at, increasing the student body and refining the curriculum. The Black Dispatch remembers him as “… a man of cleaner life, of poise, balance, and dignity…” in their tribute to the esteemed educator. The Portrait and Biographical Record of Oklahoma, an encyclopedia of notable Oklahomans published during Page’s first decade at Langston, includes him among countless white doctors and lawyers. His entry remarks on his background, education, character, and career without any qualifiers about his race. His legacy was felt during his life through all the students he impacted with his leadership and integrity.