Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have contributed to American history by giving Blacks an opportunity to better themselves in an environment where Blacks have not always been encouraged or allowed to get an education and/or accomplish their dreams. In doing so, HBCUs have created some of the best American leaders known today.
During the 1800s, very few Black Americans were fortunate and privileged enough to gain an education. The price they paid for getting an education was very high. Notable Blacks such as Fredrick Douglas were able to get an education but at a very costly price. They had to undergo abuse and prejudice just to learn.
After the civil war, HBCUs took on a leadership role in creating opportunities for Blacks by establishing institutions of higher learning in cities across major cities in the southern part of the US. Out of these two institutions emerged two of the greatest leaders in Black American history: W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington. Booker T. Washington proved that having an education was eminent to success and he continued the legacy by creating an HBCU, Tuskegee College. This college’s focus was to prepare young blacks with the skills necessary to fill the open positions in the areas of critical needs at the time. He tried to impart on the African American community that the best way to attain equality in the United States was through the accumulation of power, wealth, and respect, all of which you got through hard work.
Booker T. encapsulated his idea on HBCUs but W.E.B Dubois had a different approach. He believed equality and a sense of purpose could be attained only if talented Blacks were allowed to study the arts and sciences. Then they could become teachers and leaders for the following generations.
Over the next several decades, some of the greatest American leaders graduated from HBCUs. People like Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson, Oprah Winfrey, Thurgood Marshall, and many others. Each of them has left an indelible impression and legacy for young people like me. They have, in their own way, showed me that an education equips a person with the proper skills and ammunition to tackle life’s challenging situations.
The Great Depression and World War 2 left many black colleges in a financial crisis. Fundraising became very difficult, distracting administration from improving education. In 1943, Dr. Fredrick D. Patterson, President of Tuskegee University issued a public letter to the presidents of the other HBCUs to collaborate and rebuild the schools.
With the Brown vs. the Board of Education ruling that African Americans are “Separate but equal”, the individual states were mandated to increase funding to HBCUs and extend admission to black students. This was evidence of the tenacity and longevity of HBCUs. I believe they will always be around.
HBCUs are relevant today because their primary mission is to recruit African Americans and offer them the opportunities to develop the academic skills that will enable them to excel professionally and personally. Attending an HBCU affords you the opportunity to see, work with, interact with, learn from and emulate successful professionals who look like you and share similar experiences as you. This is not always the case at traditional American universities when African Americans are in the minority. At HBCUs, in addition to being prepared for professional life with the rigorous academic curriculum, almost all of the students have the opportunity to study with a mentor who is of same culture and background as them and is successful in their field.
Today, there are 118 HBCUs and they can boast of a considerable number of the prominent American social, political, academic, legal and cultural leaders in public service, business, science and the arts among their alumni.
There are many lessons we can learn from attending an HBCU. One of the most important of those learnings is that the struggles that our ancestors underwent to provide us with the freedoms and opportunities that we take for granted today ought to increase our hunger to excel and accomplish more than they did. We should build on the legacy that they have left us.
Bing around successful and ambitions people who look like me makes me want to learn more and educate myself even more. I want to leave my mark on the US and the world. That is why we need HBCUs to learn our history and use it to help educate the generations to come. That is why I am going to continue the legacy and do my part to change the world.