Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)

What are, and why the need for a Black College or University?

Historically Black Colleges (HBCUs) are the only institutions in the United States that were established for the main purpose of educating Black citizens at the undergraduate and graduate level in all fields of study.  Until the mid-1960s, HBCUs were, with very few exceptions, the only higher education option for most African-Americans.  Black students were unwelcome at existing white institutions of higher learning even after legislation prohibiting discrimination.

After the Civil War, Black churches, ministers, and many white philanthropists established schools across the south to educate freed slaves.  These schools, more than a 100 of them, became known as Historically Black Colleges and Universities.  The greatest number of HBCUs were established in 1867.  In the 1890s, The Morrill Land Grant Act specified that states using federal higher education funds must provide an education to Black students. Rather than integrate their public institutions, the southern states created a separate set of institutions that served Black Americans.  This resulted in the establishment of southern Black colleges.

Richard Humphreys established the African Institute (now Cheyney University) in 1837 in Cheyney, Pennsylvania, making it the oldest HBCU in the United States. There are 101 Black Colleges and Universities across the United States.  The largest number of HBCUs are located in the South.  Although others are located in Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

Throughout history we are reminded of notable heroes and leaders who have emerged from HBCUs.  Many of these leaders include:

- Vice-President Kamala Harris (Howard University, Washington, D.C.)

- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Morehouse College, Atlanta, Georgia)

- Stacey Abrams (Spelman College, Atlanta, Georgia)

- Justice Thurgood Marshall (Howard University, Washington, D.C.)

- Chadwick Bosman (Howard University, Washington, D.C.)

- Oprah Winfrey (Tennessee State University, Nashville, Tennessee)

- Omarosa Manigault (Central State University, Wilberforce, Ohio)

- Toni Morrison (Howard University, Washington, D.C.)

- Samuel L. Jackson (Morehouse College, Atlanta, Georgia)

- Spike Lee (Morehouse College, Atlanta, Georgia)

- Reverend Jesse Jackson (North Carolina A & T University, Greensboro, North Carolina)

- Atlanta Mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms (Florida A & M University, Tallahassee, Florida)

Do we still need HBCUs ?

The purpose of Black Colleges was clear before Brown vs. Board of Education, but now that Black students have other options for higher education, is their usefulness still relevant?  The relevancy of the HBCU is debated and many believe that the HBCU is an outdated idea and practice from the era of segregation.  Still others argue that the HBCU is still a vital part of educating the underserved.  With this in mind, let’s consider the following data:

It is important to note that HBCUs have survived historical challenges:  Jim Crow, inadequate funding, and accreditation issues. What is striking despite these obstacles is how successful HBCUs have been in educating many low income and underserved communities. For over 150 years, HBCUs have continued to educate minority students, providing them with economic opportunities for success, while instilling great values rooted in faith, culture, community and service. These schools trained a large percentage of our nation’s doctors, lawyers, educators and political leaders. Given their proven track record of influencing the academic success of African Americans, now more than ever, greater investment is needed in fulfilling the mission of the HBCU. We must sustain the institutions that are an integral part of the American educational fabric that have served as a training ground for many African Americans, throughout our history.