Happy Black History Month 2013! This year’s blog, Books & Belonging: A History of Black Education and Association, will examine over two centuries of African-Americans creating their own opportunities to learn and to create camaraderie in like-minded environments.
Initially, many of these institutions and organizations were founded because African-Americans were banned from joining existing ones catering to the White communities. Today, many of them still exist because their legacies and significance have become an indelible part of who we are, as a people.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are institutions of higher education in the United States, that were established before 1964, with the intention of serving the Black community. Most HBCUs were founded after the American Civil War. However, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, established in 1837, Lincoln University (Pennsylvania), established in 1854, and Wilberforce University, established in 1854, were founded prior to the American Civil War. At that time, their purpose was to educate freed slaves, thus giving them the priceless gift of endless possibilities.
Today, there are 105 HBCUs, including public and private, two-year and four-year institutions, medical schools and community colleges. All are, or were, in the former slave states and territories of the US, except those in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Kansas. Of the 105 HBCU institutions in America today, 27 offer Doctoral programs and 52 provide graduate degree programs at the Master's level. At the undergraduate level, 83 of the HBCUs offer a Bachelor's degree program; and 38 of these schools offer associate degrees.
Sadly, some HBCUs have had to close, due to competition, the Great Depression and financial difficulties, after operating for decades. However, the US Federal Government has been providing additional, stimulus funding to preserve these institutions. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed an Executive Order to expand the capacity of HBCUs. In 1981, President Reagan established the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which expanded the previous program and set into motion a government wide effort to strengthen our nation’s HBCUs. Presidents Bush Sr., Clinton and Bush Jr. also established programs to preserve and strengthen them; and in 2010, President Obama signed an Executive Order to continue the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
|President Obama signing HBCU Executive Order, February 2010|
Additionally, following the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, all educational institutions that receive federal funding must increase their racial diversity. To that end, some HBCUs now have non-Black majorities, notably West Virginia State University and Bluefield State College, whose student body has been over 80% White since the mid-1960s.
These schools are still very relevant. In 2007, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund published a study of minority recruiting practices by Fortune 400 companies, and by government agencies, gleaning that 13% of the college graduates were recruited from HBCUs.
The first HBCU was Cheyney University, in Pennsylvania. Founded as the African Institute, in February 1837, and renamed the Institute of Colored Youth (ICY) in April 1837, Cheyney University is the oldest African-American institution of higher learning, though degrees were not granted from Cheyney until 1914, when it adopted the curriculum of a normal school (teacher training).
The founding of Cheyney University was made possible by Richard Humphreys, a Quaker philanthropist who bequeathed $10,000 (one tenth of his estate) to design and establish a school to educate people of African descent.
Born on a plantation on the island of Tortola, in 1750, Richard was sent to Philadelphia, in 1764, with his brother, Thomas, as apprentices – Richard as a goldsmith and silversmith. He eventually became very well-known as a silversmith, allowing him to amass his estate of $90,000. While living, Richard became concerned about the struggles of free African-Americans to make a living. He observed the mistreatment and discrimination that African-Americans were facing in Philadelphia, and was convinced that educational opportunities were vital. News of a race riot in 1829 prompted Richard to write his will. He charged thirteen fellow Quakers to design an institution "to instruct the descendants of the African Race in school learning, in the various branches of the mechanic Arts, trades and Agriculture, in order to prepare and fit and qualify them to act as teachers...." Together, these 14 Quakers formed The Association, later to be called The Corporation. In 1922, the State of Pennsylvania assumed control of the School, and The Corporation changed its name to the Richard Humphreys Foundation, with funds from the endowment to be used for promoting education of Blacks to become teachers.
|Institute of Colored Youth Faculty|
In 1902 the Institute of Colored Youth moved to George Cheyney's farm, 25 miles west of Philadelphia. The name "Cheyney" became associated with the school in 1913. The school's official name changed several times during the 20th century; and in 1983, Cheyney joined the State System of Higher Education as Cheyney University of Pennsylvania.
|Early Cheyney Students|
Today, Cheyney University offers Baccalaureate Degrees in more than 30 disciplines, and Master’s Degrees in Education and Public Administration and has one of the most storied basketball programs in NCAA Division II history. The men's basketball program is 7th all-time in NCAA win percentage, including 16 PSAC conference championships, four Final Fours, and one National Championship (1978). The women's basketball team in 1982 competed in the championship game of the inaugural NCAA Division I tournament, despite being a Division II school.
Cheyney University’s most famous and esteemed graduate was CBS journalist, Ed Bradley, who was the first Black TV correspondent to cover The White House. He also anchored his own news broadcast, CBS Sunday Night with Ed Bradley; and most famously, spent 26 , award-winning years as a senior correspondent on CBS 60 Minutes. Ed received The Peabody and National Association of Black Journalists Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as 19 Emmy Awards.
Click here to see a tribute to Ed, by his CBS colleagues, following his death in 2006, from Leukemia.