Dr. Kat’s List: Historically Black Colleges and Universities
February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate those who improved the lives of African Americans in the US. There are more than 100 historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the US today. These schools were originally established with the intention of serving the black community, and have evolved into some of the nation’s preeminent educational centers. For students interested in schools with a rich cultural history, Dr. Kat and the expert counselors at IvyWise have identified a list of colleges with strong roots in African American history.
Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, AL
Originally called the Tuskegee Normal School for Colored Teachers, Tuskegee University in Alabama was part of the expansion of higher education institutions for blacks in the post-Civil War South. American educator Booker T. Washington served as the school’s first principal, where he combined training for future educators with practical trade skills. To celebrate Washington’s legacy, Tuskegee commissioned a monument called “Lifting the Veil,” which stands at the center of campus and reads, “He lifted the veil of ignorance from his people and pointed the way to progress through education and industry.” Today, this independent institution offers more than 35 majors (from Aviation Science to Architecture) to its 3,000 students. An indication of its dedication to black education, Tuskegee is one of only 47 members of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which provides merit scholarships and academic support to students who attend a public HBCU.
Hampton University, Hampton, VA
Hampton University was funded by the American Missionary Association, and in 1868 opened as the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute. Founded with the goal to educate African American refugees after the Civil War, the school later became one of the first in the country to welcome American Indian students as well. One of the school’s first teachers was Mary Peake, who had previously taught slaves and other African Americans despite Virginia law’s prohibiting such action. Peake would instruct her pupils under a large oak tree that became known as the Emancipation Oak (later the location of the first Southern reading of the Emancipation Proclamation). The tree still stands on the Virginia campus and represents the promise of education for all. Presently, the campus is home to 5,000 students who can choose from nearly 70 majors, 100 student organizations, and play for the NCAA Division I Pirates athletics teams.
Fisk University, Nashville, TN
Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, was established just six months after the end of the Civil War and two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Dedicated to students who had experienced slavery and poverty, the school initially faced financial struggles. To remedy this situation, Fisk created the Jubilee Singers, an a capella group, who toured the country to raise money for the college. Proving successful, the group generated a large following, including Ulysses St. Grant, Mark Twain, and Queen Victoria. In 1954, Fisk became the first, private, black college accredited for its music programs by the National Association of Schools of Music. Today, the Jubilee Singers are still in existence as one of Fisk’s more than 50 student organizations. The school further offers nearly 20 areas of study to its 800 students. The school’s core values (Diversity, Excellence, Teamwork, Accountability, Integrity, Leadership, Service) are evidenced by an impressive roster of alumni, which includes W.E.B. Du Bois, co-founder of the NAACP, and Hazel O’Leary, former US Secretary of Energy.
Spelman College, Atlanta, GA
Founded in 1881 as the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary, Spelman College in Atlanta Georgia is considered America’s oldest historically black women’s college. The school was originally started by teachers Harriet Giles and Sophia Packard with a $100 church donation, but soon found support from John D. Rockefeller, whose wife’s (Laura Spelman) parents were longtime activists in the anti-slavery movement. Spelman is a member of the Atlanta University Center, thereby allowing its students access to partner institutions Clark Atlanta University, the Interdenominational Theological Center, Morehouse College, and Morehouse School of Medicine. The comprehensive education offered to the women of Spelman has attracted a diverse student body, which is composed of more than 2,300 students from 41 states and 15 foreign countries. Alumni include actress Keshia Knight Pulliam (Rudy Huxtable on the Cosby Show) and Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, Alice Walker.
There are many schools across the country that can provide you with a strong sense of cultural significance and a great academic and social experience. Concordia College, Howard University, and West Virginia State University are a few more to consider. For a complete list of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, check out the White House Initiative from US Department of Education.
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