THE REPENTANCE PROJECT / AN AMERICAN LENT
Historical Black Colleges
& Universities (HBCUs)
& Universities (HBCUs)
WEEK VI / DAY III
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Scripture / Proverbs 2:6, 9-10 and II Corinthians 5:17-20
For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding… Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. — Proverbs 2:6, 9-10
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. — II Corinthians 5:17-20
Our History and Its Legacy
Believers recognize the importance God places on gaining wisdom and the transformative power of education. We (Max and Paul) are proud alumni of Howard University (the Divinity and Law Schools, respectively), one of more than 100 Historically (but not exclusively) Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Fellow believers in a previous era acted on this understanding to help establish many of our nation’s HBCUs. Our alma mater was named after a White man, Civil War General Oliver Otis Howard, who was known as the Christian General because of his religious faith. He joined the First Congregational Society of Washington in establishing an educational institution to teach and train those freed from slavery. Since its founding in 1867, our alma mater has awarded more than 100,000 degrees and is known as “The Mecca” for its role in educating Black professionals and its position at the center of the Black diaspora.
Augusta Institute was founded in the same year in the basement of Springfield Baptist Church, the oldest independent African-American church in the US, and went on to become Morehouse. In the same Atlanta neighborhood, Spelman was started in a church basement as the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary by two White women from the North. Sophia Packard and Harriet Giles overcame many obstacles, motivated by their faith and, as recounted by First Lady Michelle Obama, “determined to lift up ‘these women and girls who have never had a chance.’”
This same motivation — that all people are created in the image of God and that wisdom and knowledge will lead to justice and equity — inspired the creation of other institutions of higher education. Premised on the equality of all, these schools were founded to train those freed from slavery to provide for themselves, their families, and their descendants. In living out their faith, many were led to create liberating environments to counter the enforced ignorance of slavery.
From the very beginning, HBCUs were infused with the desire of White people to serve Freedmen and Freedwomen who were coming out of slavery. Founders were often motivated by their faith, both Black and White. According to the president of the United Negro College Fund, “many HBCUs are affiliated with denominations widely recognized for their support in the African-American community — the various Baptist conventions, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the United Methodists, and the United Church of Christ. But Xavier University in New Orleans, LA, the nation's leading educator of future Black physicians and pharmacists, is a Catholic institution. And Oakwood University in Alabama is closely affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church.”
A few years prior in 1890, Vermont Senator Justin Morrill succeeded in passing the second Morrill Act to create public, land-grant institutions that would admit Black students. Despite his initial effort in 1862 to create “one college in every State upon a sure and perpetual foundation, accessible to all, but especially to the sons of toil,” the former Confederate states prevented admission of Blacks to their federally-funded state universities.
Despite the spirit of reform following the Civil War, the intervening decades saw opportunities for Black people diminish as other White institutions closed their doors to Black students. In 1896, the Supreme Court’s decision in Plessy v. Ferguson established the doctrine of “separate but equal” — but they were never equal. In fact, it was decades later when James Meredith was admitted under force of law to Ole Miss that things finally began to change in Southern higher education.
Even now, funding for the 1890s HBCU public land-grant institutions still pales in comparison to the funding for the 1862 land-grants institutions (that fortunately now do admit students of all races and backgrounds.) The funding of the predominantly Black schools is and has been “very poor and not equitable compared to white institutions” — according to a 2013 report the HBCUs received $100 million in research and extension funding vs. $544 million for the 1862 institutions.
Yet these institutions are not relics of history, despite the changing landscape of the post-Civil Rights era, and they continue to serve as critical ladders of opportunity. Nearly 3 in 5 HBCU students are from low-income backgrounds and the first in their family to attend college. Education is still a necessary step to actualize freedom.
We should learn from the history and modern relevance of HBCUs as places of reconciliation in action. We see this today through increased enrollments of White, international and Latino-American students resulting in 1 in 5 HBCU students being non-Black. HBCUs remain a force for good, a model for reconciliation, and a light on the hilltop, especially for those who have been marginalized.
Reflection and Response
There are many opportunities to support HBCUs —
- Donate to one of them,
- Teach a course,
- Offer to be a mentor,
- Attend a chapel service,
- Support a student ministry,
- Encourage your younger loved ones to apply and attend (following in the footsteps of the Honorable Harris Wofford, who was the first White student to graduate from Howard Law School).
Be an ambassador for Christ with the ministry of reconciliation.
Written by Max Finberg and Paul Monteiro