Historically black colleges and universities – commonly called “HBCUs” – are defined by the Higher Education Act of 1965 as “. . . any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association determined by the Secretary [of Education] . . . .”
The first colleges for African Americans were established largely through the efforts of black churches with the support of the American Missionary Association and the Freedmen’s Bureau. The second Morrill Act of 1890 required states – especially former confederate states – to provide land grants to establish institutions for black students if admission was not allowed elsewhere. As a result, many HBCUs were founded.
The Institute for Colored Youth, the first higher education institution for blacks, was founded in Cheyney, Pennsylvania, in 1837. It was followed by Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1854 and Wilberforce University in Ohio in 1856. Between 1861 and 1900 more than 90 institutions of higher learning for African Americans were established. Shaw University, founded in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1865, was the first black college organized after the Civil War. Other such colleges include Talladega College, Howard University, Morehouse College and Hampton University. Currently, there are 106 HBCUs located within 20 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The relevance of HBCUs is as important today as it was when the first HBCU was founded in 1837 despite the fact the African Americans are now able to attend the colleges and universities of their choice. Not only do HBCU graduates report higher satisfaction and stronger racial identity, but, all other things being equal, African-American college graduates who attended HBCUs assumed higher status jobs than their counterparts at comparable non-HBCUs. In other words, the HBCU advantage is not a myth.
Moreover, the number of notable HBCU alumni is astounding. In virtually every area of human endeavor, you will find a prominent HBCU graduate. From Justice Thurgood Marshall, Charles Hamilton Houston, Vernon Jordan and Senator Kamala Harris in law and government to Charles Drew, Lonnie Johnson, Katherine Johnson and David Satcher in science and medicine to Mary McCleod Bethune, Booker T. Washington and Marian Wright Edelman in advocacy and education; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ambassador Andrew Young in religion; literary giants Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Nikki Giovanni, Pearl Cleage and Ta-Nehesi Coates; business icons Oprah Winfrey, Earl Graves, Sean Combs, Rosalind Brewer; and a veritable list of Who’s Who is sports and entertainment including Jerry Rice, Althea Gibson, Steve McNair, Wilma Rudolph, Walter Payton and Michael Strahan to entertainers like Samuel L. Jackson, Phylicia Rashad, Debbie Allen, Taraji P. Henson, Erykah Badu, Leontyne Price, Anthony Anderson and Chadwick Boseman to name a few. HBCUs have been the launching pad for the groundbreaking careers of legions of professionals and the award-winning careers of numerous athletes, artists and entertainers at rates that other institutions simply cannot boast.
Among other quantifiable markers that point to the success of HBCUs are: