History is presented in a way that glorifies the heritage of those in power. For several centuries, Europeans have become the ‘HIS’ in his story (History). History in public curriculum and scholarship reflect European ethnocentrism. In a sense, the acronym for HBCU is redundant, being that the oldest university in the World was in Africa-more specifically, in Kemet, ‘the land of the blacks’. This university existed during a time where black was synonymous with the term ‘university’, African greatness and intellect (i.e. Egypt, Nubia etc.,). The early American experience for Africans created amnesia of this greatness or of Africa in general. Amidst their initial struggles, Africans in America revived this greatness in the quilt of American history. This phenomenon occurred through breeding grounds for black leaders, professionals and activists, commonly called HBCUs. While HBCUs have had a wide range effect on a global scale, in a domestic capacity, HBCUs have touched almost every aspect of American culture. Lincoln University and Morehouse College birthed two of the greatest agents of change- Thurgood Marshall and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Marshall, who graduated from Lincoln University, fought for civil rights on a legal front, drastically leading to a metamorphosis of the American social and legal scene. Brown v. Board of Education reversed the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision, which made ‘Separate, but equal’ unconstitutional. His legal work combined with his passion for law and justice led to him being nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. Though best remembered for his work concerning Brown v. Board of Education, Marshall transcended racial lines by working to advance the legal system as a whole. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King championed social justice through his tactics of civil disobedience through boycotts, strikes, marches and sit-ins. He was the icon of the black community. A man of great spiritual fortitude and an intellectual who mastered the art of rhetoric, King empowered and mobilized the masses to work towards social reform. King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. HBCUs are as relevant today as Historically White Institutions; they are institutions of higher learning. In high school, I learned about American history. The shortest month of the year was devoted to black history, where we took five minutes a day to ‘honor’ African Americans, not Africans. The fight for justice and equality is ongoing. While African Americans make up 13% of the population, there are only two black senators. The idea that black people question the relevance of their own institutions shows an inherent inferiority complex that has haunted the black community from the days of chattel slavery. Black consciousness is the key to freeing ourselves from oppression. Knowledge of the world and knowledge of self is a dangerous threat to black oppression. It took going to a HBCU for me to gain a greater sense of self. I feel empowered when I see other black students learning and aspiring to be leaders and professionals. HBCUs continue to further the legacy of Africans in America.
Historically black colleges and universities are the foundation for African Americans achieving an education in the United States. The Higher Education of 1965 says that an HBCU is “any historically black college or university…whose principal mission was, and is, the education of Black Americans.” Before Brown vs. Board of Education, before schools were desegregated, there were HBCU’s. After slavery was abolished, African Americans soon discovered that being free was not enough. They had been intellectually suppressed all throughout slavery; a slave was whipped if he or she knew how to read. HBCU’s were established to educate and enlighten African Americans who had to learn to read and write if they were make the most out of their new independence. The first HBCU was Cheyney University established in Cheyney, Penn. as a school for elementary and high school teaching in 1837. HBCU’s were originally established for blacks to become teachers; each one, teach one. HBCU’s are a part of the advancement of African Americans. The Reverend Richard H. Cain said “we must take into out own hands the education of our race.” Proactive steps were taken to ensure of Cain’s assertion. The American Missionary Association and the Freedmen’s Bureau established several upstart colleges and universities, including Hampton University in Virginia. The American Baptist Home Mission Society established the following HBCU’s: Virginia Union, Shaw, Benedict, Morehouse, Clafin, Rust, and Bennett, and all of them are still around. Before slavery had officially ended, black people were teaching and opening schools. When historians and students of history look back at African American history, the will have to make note of the impact and significance of HBCU’s for being the first institutions to offer black people an education. The graduation rate for African Americans has quadrupled over the last fifty years, and we need to capitalize on that success with the continuation of HBCU’s. HBCU’s are a part of history, but they do not belong just in the past. HBCU’s are needed to encourage interaction with black people from all walks of life. HBCU’s instill pride in young African Americans to promote black pride, not superiority or arrogance. There are more white colleges and universities than black, but a lot of black students feel racial anxiety, the need to act a certain way to avoid acting like a stereotypical black person. They feel out of place, for it is not common to see many black students at a predominantly white school. At HBCU’s, racial anxiety and tension are nonexistent. The student body is more like a community, everyone greets and meets everyone and they all know each other. The HBCU experience is like no other, and students at these schools are given an extra nudge into the future so they can achieve the success and accolades they have always dreamed about.