Tuesday, Sep. 02, 2014
hbcu history

Institutions of higher education for African Americans were practically nonexistent in early America, and during the time of slavery, some states even passed laws prohibiting slave education, including banning slaves from learning how to write. After the Civil War and the passing of the 13th amendment, opportunities were created for African Americans to receive a higher education.

In 1862, Senator Justin Morrill headed a movement in America to focus on education through the Morrill Land Grant Act, which gave federal lands to the states in order to form colleges to train farmers, scientists and teachers. At this time, Alcorn State University in Mississippi was the only learning institution created specifically for blacks. In 1890, a crucial rectification in the Morrill Land Grant Act made it possible for 16 more higher learning institutes to be created for blacks. When the land grant was first enacted, white institutions would receive money and not allow black students to attend. The change in the land grant stated that either the schools created with the grant had to accept blacks and whites, or that money must be given so that alternative black colleges may be created.

With the support of organizations such as the Freedmen's Bureau, black churches, and the American Missionary Association (AMA), a higher demand for the education of blacks was created, resulting in the addition of seven more black colleges and 13 normal (teaching) schools between 1861 and 1870.

The attendance of HBCUs rose significantly again during the series of "debates" between arguably two of the most influential black scholars of their time - Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. Both men were among the first generation of black students to graduate from two prominent black institutions: the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute and Fisk University, respectively.






American society was changing rapidly when Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois were attending some of the first black institutions. Slavery had ended with the Civil War only a couple of decades before and most African Americans, or ex-slaves, were still not viewed as equal citizens in society. Most blacks during this time served as sharecroppers - or farmers that did not own their own land and had to give part of their crops to the landowners as rent. Most of the landowners at the time were white and treated their black tenants poorly by taking large shares of the farmer's crops unfairly and/or creating "tabs" for sharecropping families so that they would be "indebted" to the landowner and the land for the majority of their lives. Only a handful of African Americans were fortunate enough to be considered "free"- or not ex slaves. Usually these African Americans lived in the northern states of the United States during slavery, and they were considerably wealthy. Both Washington and DuBois both recognized the importance of education and the opportunities that education could give to blacks to improve their living conditions and quality of life.

Predominately because of their opposite backgrounds and family history, Washington and DuBois held two varying philosophies on how to improve the state of education for future generations of black students. Washington, an ex-slave, believed that the focus of black education should be on giving African Americans the skills necessary to practically succeed in society by training them to be farmers, teachers, domestics, and other types of skilled workers. Through hard work in these trades, Washington believed that African Americans could attain the status, wealth and the respect needed to be considered equal in society. Washington helped build a new school, Tuskegee Institute, on these principles. DuBois, a free African American raised in Massachusetts believed that it was important for blacks to be educated in skilled trades as well as the liberal arts. He believed strongly in civil rights and that through black individuals being trained in a variety of areas of knowledge, African Americans as a collective could gain equality. Both men feuded openly about their different viewpoints, leading to the increasing popularity and the gained credibility and respect of HBCUs in American society. Through the support of philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, HBCUs began to be accredited in 1928.

Both the Great Depression and World War II proved to be great challenges for the success of HBCUs. Though many of the intuitions were funded through land-grants and through philanthropic efforts, black colleges and universities were still drastically underfunded compared with predominantly white education institutions. In an effort to pool resources and to recruit students, Dr. Fredrick D. Patterson, president of the Tuskegee Institute, urged other presidents of black intuitions to join together for a greater good. Through this idea, the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) was founded in 1943 to help fundraise and recruit for all HBCUs as a collected effort. Legislation such as the Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka Supreme Court case ruling in 1954, The Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Higher Education Act in 1965, eventually helped to improve the quality of black education by opening up more funding for HBCUs and by allowing black students to attend formally predominately white institutions.

The future success of Historically Black Colleges and Universities is deeply rooted in a rich and complex past. Collegeview.com does a great job of putting into perspective the important role that HBCUs in African American culture. "The historical black college or university provides a unique education for African Americans. Students who attend HBCUs graduate with greater frequency than African American students at predominantly white universities, and these students get more academic and social support. HBCUs must be protected because they are not only an important part of our history, but also an important part of our future."


--C. Turman
For FAQs on HBCUs, and to see if such an education is right for you, see this article.

View more questions, articles or lists.

 Advertisement