HBCUs and their purpose as the cornerstone of the Black Community
by Messiah Williams ’18
You are probably wondering: What is an HBCU? HBCU stands for “Historically Black Colleges and Universities.” Now you may be asking, “What does that mean?” It basically means a college or university that has a predominantly black student body. The black population of these institutions are about 100%.
Although many think there are merely three or four of these colleges, there are actually 107 of these universities nationwide, attributing to their significance in African-American culture. That is roughly six percent of the total number of four-year institutions in the US today. Schools like Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Howard University are among the most prestigious of the HBCUs.
The first HBCU, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, was founded in 1837, in Cheyney, Pennsylvania. Funding for this university was donated by a Quaker philanthropist by the name of Richard Humphreys, who was born in the West Indies. He was a benefactor who funded the school in its early years.
After that several HBCUs were founded by white abolitionists who had riches and political and military ties. Individuals like Gen. O.O. Howard (Howard University), Clinton B. Fisk (Fisk University), Henry Martin Tupper (Shaw University) and others worked with the Freedmens’ Bureau to make instructive foundations for black people.
HBCUs have been a huge part of the black community ever since.
If we look at it in the grand scheme of things, the HBCU has been the catalyst and most important factor in the advancement of black people. If we look at some of our most prestigious black leaders, they are almost all products of HBCUs, such as Thurgood Marshall, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Toni Morrison. So, the reputation of these colleges and universities is irrefutable.
But the age-old question is: Why would someone want to go to a virtually all-black college? What would compel someone to go to a school with practically no diversity? The question may be different for each student that plans to attend, attends, or has attended an HBCU. Some say they have attended because of family legacy and others say they have attended because they love the environment.
I had a Q&A with Omar Williams, a GS student, who plans to attend an HBCU this coming fall. Here is the conversation we had.
Q: Which college do you plan on attending this coming fall?
A: Morehouse College
Q: Why an HBCU?
A: As a black man, in America, I feel it is important that I find a sense of pride in being black, and attending an HBCU will help me reach that goal. It is an experience that many black people and people of color seek.
Q: Why Morehouse?
A: Well, initially, my first choice was Howard, another HBCU, but things did not pan out as expected. But Morehouse was a close second, and I was not disappointed. One thing that was attractive to me about Morehouse is the alumni, such as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., George School’s very own Julian Bond, and Samuel L. Jackson. Also, the culture at Morehouse grabbed my attention. The idea that the professors are not just there to teach students, but they are there to turn boys into men.
Q: What would you say to someone who is skeptical about HBCUs?
A: Many people, including black people, are “iffy” about the concept of attending an HBCU. Some people see this as quasi-segregation, but I think that an HBCU is no different than an all-girl or an all-boy school. When you bring students together that share the same qualities and background it is an experience like no other.
Many students in America feel exactly the same as Omar and can easily identify with what he is saying. The HBCU is seen as a “pit stop” for African-Americans to gain that sense of identity before they start their life.
HBCUs are not meant to exclude but are actually the opposite. Disenfranchised black students often feel excluded. Sometimes they do not feel they are a priority and concern in the American school system, and HBCUs act as a safe haven and home for these students.
Many of these schools were established before the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, so these were the only colleges black students could attend. They were and still are safe environments where black students can study and aspire to be great.
As the theme song from Cheers goes, an HBCU is a place “[w]here everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see our troubles are all the same. You wanna be where everybody knows your name.”