The Evolving Role of HBCUs in Resolving Racial Tensions

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 23
Words: 6266
Reading time:
24 min
Study level: PhD

Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have played a prominent role in the advancement of Black social progress and racial conciliation in higher education in the USA, as well as in the lives of Americans. HBCUs have employed education as a “vehicle” for fighting against racial bias and other types of discrimination (Crewe, 2017, p. 360). Serving as the “pipeline” to education for the people who had just recently become freed from slavery, HBCUs performed a three-dimensional function (Stevenson, 2007, p. 99).

The first mission they pursued was promoting civil rights activism, and the second was improving Black people’s opportunities in the post-slavery period. The third goal pursued by HBCUs was to offer the same educational possibilities to Black students as their White peers had been having for a long time (Stevenson, 2007). As such, it is impossible to overestimate the role of HBCUs in the establishment of Black youths’ intellectual, cultural, and spiritual development.

As defined in the Higher Education Act of 1965, HBCUs are historically Black colleges and universities that gained accreditation before 1964 and whose primary responsibility was, and still is, providing education for Black Americans (Arroyo & Gasman, 2014). The first of such establishments was Cheyney University, founded in 1837 (Crewe, 2017). Other universities with the longest history are Lincoln University (1854) and Wilberforce University (1856). At present, the number of HBCUs slightly exceed 100, which accounts for nearly 3% of postsecondary schools (Arroyo & Gasman, 2014).

Since their foundation, HBCUs have experienced various levels of demand and have served different purposes depending on the social activities prevailing in the country. However, an undoubted fact about these facilities is that they have always pursued the noble mission of making the lives of young Black Americans richer in terms of opportunities they received and the knowledge they gained there. The present chapter consists of several sections divided chronologically, each chapter depicting the development and functioning of HBCUs in different periods. The chapter offers an overview of HBCUs’ role in the establishment of various Black movements and the general development of African Americans’ equality endeavors since the beginning of the twentieth century.

Reconstruction and Post-Reconstruction (1862–1900)

During the periods of reconstruction and post-reconstruction, the first HBCUs emerged and developed their agendas. The newly emancipated Black people endeavored to obtain legal recognition as U.S. citizens. At the same time, they had to resist terroristic actions of hostile White Southerners. Since those periods were the initial ones in the functioning of HBCUs, the newly formed educational establishments lacked both legal and financial support to be able to function properly. One of the greatest changes occurred in 1862 with the implementation of the first Morrill Land Grant Act (Harper, Patton, & Wooden, 2009).

With the help of the Act, it became possible to initiate the educational movement in the spheres of mechanical arts and agriculture. The new law promoted the development of areas that had not received sufficient attention earlier. In 1872, Alcorn College in Mississippi became evolved into the pioneer land-grant educational establishment for Black students (Harper et al., 2009). Despite the considerable achievements accessible through the first Act, it was the second Morrill Act of 1890 that endowed equal funds for Black universities and colleges in seventeen states.

Although the Act’s purpose was rather beneficial, educational facilities did not receive the promised funds. As a result, instead of focusing on agricultural and mechanical arts, such establishments concentrated on training Black students to become teachers (Craig, 1992). Even though such colleges and universities did not offer much of choice concerning the area of knowledge, they made a considerable contribution to the development of Black education. Since many graduates of facilities based on the 1890 Act became teachers, there turned out to be more qualified high school educators. As a result, more African American parents chose to send their children to school, which, in turn, gave a start to new student generations (Craig, 1992). Further, the general development of education equality gave way to the establishment of HBCUs.

Apart from the mentioned functions and achievements, the second Morrill Act also supported the segregation of White and Black educational facilities. As a result, HBCUs established during the 1890s-1900s were of much lower quality than White colleges and universities opened under the first Morrill Act of 1862 (Harper et al., 2009). Additionally, the management of HBCUs was mostly unprofessional since Black administrators lacked experience, and White Southerners were not willing to manage Black colleges and universities due to poor funding. The situation was likely to improve in 1896 with the Plessy v. Ferguson court case ruling that racial segregation could continue on the condition that educational establishments received equal accommodations (Harper et al., 2009). However, even after Plessy v. Ferguson, Black colleges received 26 times as little funding as White colleges did. Per-pupil expenditure rate for White students was four times higher than that for their Black counterparts.

However, despite some deficiencies, Morrill Acts presented a considerable advantage for the development of Black education. The major point in favor was that African Americans gained venues for education without much trouble (Harper et al., 2009). Only a few Black students could study at predominantly White colleges and universities. Thus, about 90% of African Americans who received a university degree in the first decades of the 1940s were graduates of HBCUs.

Despite the poor financial condition in which HBCUs were prior to the 1900s, these institutions served as the means of enhancing the quality of life not only of Black people but also of other underserved populations (Crewe, 2017). The prevailing ideology of the 1862-1900 period was that of “racial uplift” (Crewe, 2017, p. 361). This approach suggested that African Americans were accountable for their race’s welfare, which encouraged young people to receive education and use it as a tool against the attempts to limit their civil and political rights.

Hence, the first HBCUs were more than merely educational establishments: they were also places aimed at bolstering the African American community by means of intellectual development. As an example, it is relevant to mention Morehouse College, founded in 1867. The college’s mission was to resist Jim Crow’s laws aimed at discriminating Blacks and promoting segregation (Jensen, 2017). As such, the educational process at the college had a profound effect on the development of Blacks’ religious and educational opportunities. Three decades before the establishment of Morehouse College, Cheyney University was founded. At that time, about one-fifth of African Americans were illiterate (Crewe, 2017). Cheyney University became the most significant driving force in the foundation of a new life position of post-abolitionism Blacks entering the reconstruction era.

The ideal of racial uplift, which prevailed in the first HBCUs’ vision, gave way to racial advocacy. The latter included such pivotal notions as social justice, empowerment, cultural development, diversity, and inclusion (Crewe, 2017). Thus, the initial aim of the educational process in HBCUs functioning in 1863-1900 was the fight against society oppressing people of color. By receiving education, students of HBCUs were able to pursue the goal of removing systemic restrictions that were widespread in the African American community.

Mission statements of the first HBCUs founded in 1865-1869 included such aspects as providing high-quality education, cultivating creativity and social responsibility, and developing a society in which all citizens could satisfy their needs (Crewe, 2017). Due to such endeavors, HBCUs were able to promote racial advocacy and eliminate injustice. Although some of White educational institutions also aimed at resolving race issues, the unanimity of this endeavor was present only in HBCUs. What is more, the achievement of the improved attitude of society toward the race question was not only an institutional purpose but also a personal one (Crewe, 2017).

Both faculty members and students realized that the future of their race depended upon their efforts. Therefore, the initial stage of HBCUs’ existence mostly concentrated on the foundation of institutions and obtaining necessary funds to operate them. The first universities’ and colleges’ missions incorporated anti-discrimination efforts as well as the establishment of equal opportunities in the future.

The New Negro Movement (1900s–1940s)

The major accomplishments achieved with the help of HBCUs during this period were those in the spheres of education and art. In the 1900s–1940s, there was a heightened feeling of Black people’s cultural contribution to the USA’s development. In colleges and universities, fraternities and sororities started to gain more and more prominence. This resulted in the transitioning of HBCU leadership from predominantly White charities to Black Americans. A renaissance of African American scholarship emerged at HBCUs during this period. What is more, HBCUs started evolving into entities strongly advocating civil right movements.

The New Negro Movement emerged as a response to the post-reconstruction terror regime and the harsh effect of the Plessy v. Ferguson case. As a result of these impacts, African Americans initiated a justice-seeking movement of self-assertion and resistance (Dodson, 2016). The New Negro Movement paved the way for the Civil Right Movement that inspired Black people to fight for their rights and equality. HBCUs played a major role in this process since it were students who became the most important participants of such movements (Barrett, 2017). As a result of the New Negro Movement, there appeared a new generation of African American people who spared no effort to validate their identity as human beings and prove that they were capable of doing much more than the American government expected of them (Dodson, 2016).

Such HBCUs as Morgan State College and Howard University played a significant role in the development of the New Negro Movement in general and Black art in particular. These and other educational establishments became centers of the cultural and intellectual life of African Americans in the 1900s-1040s. As a result of such a considerable cultural development, Blacks were able to establish a new unique community of artists (Dodson, 2016).

Morgan State College became one of the centers of the New Negro Movement due to its students’ activism. Specifically, in 1939, many of Morgan students became members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and participated in the first National Youth Conference (Barrett, 2017). Also, many of these young people were representatives of the City-Wide Young People’s Forum, which originated in 1931.

Since scholars consider the Forum to have been a catalyst for the Youth and College Division of the NAACP, it is possible to speak of the vital role of HBCUs in the development of cultural and civil rights movements of African American people (Barrett, 2017). What is more, the Forum served as a catalyst for other significant student organizations, such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Thus, the emergence of student movements and organizations during the New Negro Movement period was the initial stage of the Civil Rights movement, which was a prominent process in the enhancement of African American people’s position in the American society.

Scholars usually relate the New Negro Movement to the Harlem Renaissance explosion of the 1920s. There is a common opinion that these two terms are synonymous, and that the upheaval of the Harlem Renaissance was the heart of the New Negro Movement (Dodson, 2016). It is possible to justify such an association by the outstanding effect that the Harlem Renaissance made on cultural and artistic landscapes both in the USA and worldwide.

Although it became popular in the 1900s–1940s, the term New Negro Movement emerged earlier – in the 1890s. Originally, the movement was a reaction of African Americans to White Americans’ post-reconstruction violation of Blacks people’s rights, image, and dignity (Dodson, 2016). In the beginning, the New Negro Movement pursued activist and intellectual goals rather than artistic and literary ones. Apart from that, the movement demonstrated itself through coordinated group activity and self-regulating operations. At the turn of the 20th century, Blacks established more organizations protecting their rights and ratifying their humanity than at any other point of history until the late 1960s (Dodson, 2016).

Apart from the mentioned NAACP (founded in 1909), such organizations as the National Association of Colored Women (1895), the Niagara Movement (1905), the National Urban League (1910), and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (1915) appeared (Dodson, 2016). The Plessy v. Ferguson case, the main impetus for these organizations’ development, made African Americans rise in defense of their ethnic group to eliminate the unfair effect of segregation. Within ten years following the mentioned court ruling, the New Negro movement evolved into a national Black movement aimed to resist post-reconstruction terrorism. Both local and national associations created by African Americans during the 1900s–1940s helped to bolster the rights and social position of Blacks. Specifically, these organizations impacted the people’s consciousness and gradually converted it into a movement granting new opportunities (Dodson, 2016).

Howard University, which was located in Washington, was unable to join the New Negro Movement to the full extent due to its dependence on federal funding. Another reason why the institution could not allow the Black thought to spread was the White leadership who considered the university as their institution, which they magnanimously run for African American students (Dodson, 2016). Hence, founders viewed it as their duty to sustain their leadership and give the best “colonial” education to Blacks none of whom could become the university’s leader (Dodson, 2016, p. 992).

However, under the pressure of the developing movement, Howard University underwent considerable changes. 1918 was the year when the university selected its last White president, Dr. James Stanley Durkee. In 1919, racial confrontations gave way to the growing need of African Americans to defend their rights. By the end of Durkee’s presidency, however, about two-thirds of the university’s faculty was African American (Dodson, 2016). The New Negro Movement activists succeeded not only in Blacks’ taking control of Howard but also is altering its curriculum. Particularly, courses were to reflect African Americans’ history and culture more.

Gradually, other universities started following the ideas pursued by the New Negro Movement activists. HBCUs became places where Black people could meet their cultural and spiritual needs as well as develop in intellectual and artistic dimensions. Educational programs became adjusted to cover the most relevant topics of African Americans’ lives. The movement helped Blacks not only to discover their identity but also to demonstrate it to other nations that had been underestimating them for many centuries.

The Civil Rights Movement (1940s–1960s)

The lengthy period of slavery and Jim Crow laws did not remain unnoticed in the U.S. society. Due to frequent racist attacks, African Americans felt that their race was devalued and humiliated. The most prominent response to such unfair treatment in the 1940s–1960s was the Civil Rights Movement. The movement started as the opposition to Jim Crow laws, which supported segregation (Clayton, 2018). The Civil Rights Movement relied largely on young people, whose enthusiasm and energy inspired others. Although some considered the activists’ actions to be radical, more and more students joined the nonviolent resistance.

HBCUs played a crucial role in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s–1960s. In particular, HBCUs provided intellectual leadership, foot soldiers, and secure places to meet and make arrangements (Williamson, 2004). Political and economic independence from the state, which HBCUs owned, allowed their students to take part in various activities without worrying about legislative punishment. Still, their position of privacy did not protect them entirely from the state’s exasperation, especially when colleges’ and universities’ goals contradicted state interests (Williamson, 2004).

The most typical arguments against HBCUs’ participation in the Civil Rights Movement was that they should promote constitutionally protected freedoms. Another opinion was that HBCUs should ignore political affairs and concentrate on educational purposes. There were frequent debates over the educational establishments’ role in the movement. The most committed activists underwent severe punishment but did not refuse to follow their ideals (Williamson, 2004). The Civil Rights Movement was inevitable due to the degree of unfairness between the rights of White and Black people living in the USA.

By 1950, only 2.3% of African Americans had a high school certificate. What is more, nearly 70% of Blacks aged twenty-five and older did not have an education level higher than the seventh grade (Williamson, 2004). The pivotal moment in this movement was the Brown v. Board of Education case, which proclaimed segregation illegal. However, many universities and colleges continued treating White and Black students unequally, not allowing the latter to obtain the same opportunities as the former had. Hence, the movement’s activists continued working hard to pursue their goals.

While private HBCUs had comparative independence as to the decision of participating in movements, public establishments did not relish such a prospect. For instance, Southern colleges and universities were under the control of states, which refused to support Black schools because of their participation in the processes destroying the social order (Williamson, 2004). However, despite different obstacles, HBCUs became important centers of civic engagement of the time. The primary aim of higher education is promoting academic achievement and cultivating citizenship and positive qualities in students (Gasman, Spencer, & Orphan, 2015).

Unlike historically White colleges and universities, which were not interested in the issue of civil engagement much, HBCUs focused on this goal from the beginning of their existence. In early HBCUs, there was insufficient support for civil participation and liberal arts. However, with their development and growth, these institutions turned out to be centers of community life within the African American population (Gasman et al., 2015). Because of mass discrimination, HBCUs occupied a much more important place in the establishment of Black culture than White colleges and universities did in the promotion of White culture.

Along with universities, churches played a significant role in the promotion of interests pursued by the Civil Rights Movement. The most prominent leader of the movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., was a Baptist minister who advocated the nonviolent means of proving one’s point (Clayton, 2018). There were few public places where people could gather and discuss their strategies, and the Black church was among such venues. Many students were dedicated to church, so they arranged their meetings and plans there. In the Civil Rights Movement, the combination of efforts made by HBCUs and the church allowed reaching considerable results.

Black colleges and universities generally included the same dimensions as White institutions did: research, teaching, and public service (Gasman et al., 2015). However, the difference was that Black colleges and universities performed one more function, which White establishments lacked: the search of social justice for their students and other people. Since social justice is the basis of civic engagement and the development of democracy, this feature made HBCUs more focused on these issues than White colleges and universities.

Finally, it is necessary to mention the movement within the movement that developed in the 1950s. Whereas Black people lacked rights and freedoms that White people had, there was also inequality among the members of the Black community. Specifically, African American females experienced worse treatment than males in terms of access to education. Thus, when the Civil Rights Movement evolved into a full-scale struggle, Black females started to confront those who, in their opinion, were accountable for the oppression they experienced (Jean-Marie, 2006).

The Brown v. Board of Education case, which was prominent for African American education in general, gave a start to females’ pursuit of education and increasing their chances for engaging in professional careers. Thus, HBCUs served as a “repository of hope” for universal education for every individual (Jean-Marie, 2006, p. 87). The participation of HBCU students in the Civil Rights Movement helped to promote educational, civic engagement, and spiritual goals of African American youth. Moreover, females managed to start a campaign on gaining equal rights to education and work. The ideals of democracy and equality, which dominated in the 1940s–1960s, received considerable support and encouragement with the help of the Civil Rights Movement.

The Black Power Movement (1960s–1970s)

The next period in the existence of HBCUs and the lives of African Americans was less peaceful than the previous ones. Students took part in demonstrations, which induced conflicts with law enforcement. Many Black students became victims of assaults and murders, specifically, those of Southern University and Jackson State University. The movement started to involve not only African Americans but also poor people from other ethnic groups who disagreed with the capitalist structure of the country. People strived to gain Black liberation and equality by any means. The Black Panther Party was the most popular and powerful organization during this period. Its members challenged the police’s violent treatment of African Americans and engaged in numerous social programs aimed at enhancing the Blacks’ lives.

One of the pivotal episodes in the 1960s–1970s was the initiation of sit-ins. These activities presupposed resistance to support segregation in public places and transport. According to Jim Crow laws, Blacks and Whites had to use separate places in uses, canteens, libraries, public toilets, and other sites. Students became some of the most ardent participants of sit-ins. The first act of sit-in occurred in February 1960, when four African American students of North Carolina A&T College in Greensboro, North Carolina chose to sit-in at the store’s lunch counter, which was disobedience of Jim Crow laws (Franklin, 2003). It was an inspiring decision, and many students followed the example, ready to sacrifice their lives for social justice. With the first sit-in, a new stage in the struggle for Black freedom started in the USA.

At the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s, Black activists made numerous attempts to desegregate various establishments and the public transportation system. Prior to the initiation of sit-ins in the 1960s, African American students undertook measures to ignite the spirit of freedom and equality. The first endeavors were largely unsuccessful, ending in arrests of the participants. For instance, the arrest of some of Florida A&M University students followed their refusal to move to the rear part of the bus (Franklin, 2003). Many of such sit-ins received support from church activists and other community members. What differentiated the 1950s and the 1960s protests was that the latter initiated a new phase in the struggle for freedom which involved both Black and White students.

It is necessary to note that not only male students were active participants of the Black Power Movement. The role of female activists was also rather significant, and one of the most compelling examples is the involvement of African American female students of Bennett College in the 1960 sit-in movement in Greensboro, North Carolina (Flowers, 2005). When the Supreme Court declared segregation in education illegal, Black students hoped that they would receive better opportunities and freedoms in education as well as in other spheres of life. However, when they did not receive the expected change, they decided to work on that change themselves.

Bennett College was one of the two HBCUs in Greensboro, and it was a private college for women only. Hence, when male students of the other HBCU, North Carolina A&T College, arranged the first sit-in, their female compatriots could not remain inactive. For expressing their position, nearly 40% of Bennett College students were under arrest during the sit-in movement (Flowers, 2005). Females arranged marches, sit-ins, and pickets to defend their right to social justice.

During the Black Power Movement, there emerged the Black Studies movement, which gave way to the development of a separate scholarly discourse and developed into a separate academic discipline in subsequent decades. A prominent phase in the evolution of the Black Studies movement was in 1968 when three important events happened. The first of them was the occupation of the Bursar’s building of the Northwestern University for forty hours, when ninety African American students demanded an increase in admissions, improved housing conditions, changes in the curriculum, and enhanced student facilities (Fenderson, Stewart, & Baumgartner, 2011). Their ultimate goal, however, was putting an end to segregation which was abolished de jure, but de facto prevailed in the university. The introduction of Black Studies courses was another important goal.

The second significant event happened on the Yale University campus in New Haven, Connecticut, just a few days away from the previous one. On May 9 and 10, the Black Student Alliance (BSA) arranged a two-day symposium called “Black Studies in the University” (Fenderson et al., 2011). They invited university administrators, White educational powerbrokers, and Black activist scholars and named the event “educational experience for professional educators” (Fenderson et al., 2011, p. 3).

Although there were many objections to the implementation of Black Studies among the participants, the symposium was a starting point for the future Black Studies model. The third event was the publication of the “Special Report on Student Unrest at Black Colleges” in Jet, the key magazine of the Black student society. Although the article covering Black students’ revolt bore a less significant meaning than the previous two events, it was rather important due to attracting the public’s attention to the increased political activity of African American students.

The aftermath of desegregation protests was far more than allowing Blacks to use the same facilities as Whites. There were more outcomes, which ignited people’s belief in the possibility of gaining equality and inspired them to pursue such a goal. Specifically, sit-ins inspired many people to oppose segregation, which means that HBCU students affected the whole country’s life and not only their own lives (Biggs & Andrews, 2015).

Furthermore, protesters were able to disrupt the economic stability of the country by interfering with the regular process of producing and distributing goods. Finally, by arranging protests, activists gained major changes at the state and federal policy levels. Thus, it is viable to conclude that the initiation of the Black Power Movement by HBCUs led to considerable positive alterations in African Americans’ civil rights protection.

The Afrocentric Movement (1980s–2000s)

In the course of the Civil Rights Movement, which spanned for several decades, there was a peculiar division titled the Afrocentric Movement. The philosophy of Afrocentrism originated in the Temple University School of Scholars. The term ‘Afrocentricity’ emerged in 1970 and became popularized in the1980 (Chawane, 2016). The premise of the Afrocentric Movement was that Black people should reclaim their pride and dignity through a connection to Africa as their homeland. Afrocentricity presupposes that Blacks should have an African viewpoint and not mix it with the American one. The supporters of this movement argued that by viewing themselves as central figures of their own history, Africans were able to see their nation as participants and agents rather than “marginal and on the periphery” of economic and political dimensions (Chawane, 2016, p. 78). The movement’s viability became the key debate both among Black and White scholars of the time.

The concept of Afrocentricity had received many definitions depending on the scholars’ focus and beliefs. Some considered Afrocentricity to be the approach in which African values and interests occupied the main position and thus viewed it as a new historical perspective (Chawane, 2016). Others defined Afrocentricity as an intellectual movement emphasizing Africans’ achievement and cultural heritage. One more approach was to view Afrocentricity as the metamorphosis of values and beliefs signifying that African people should take pride in their contribution to civilization’s development (Chawane, 2016).

What was similar in all of these definitions was the focus on African culture’s centrality. In the academic dimension, Afrocentricity presupposed the theory, ideology, and methodology that educators should utilize to reach the goal of attaining the needed change. In relation to the Civil Rights Movement and other pivotal movements involving Black students, Afrocentrism served the function of explaining intellectual colonialism that had given way to the political and social oppression of African Americans.

Racial identity played a crucial role in the establishment of Black students’ values and beliefs in the last few decades of the 20th century. A probable reason for such a connection was that the conceptualization of ethnic identity evolution took place during the rebellious struggle of African Americans for civil rights (Cokley, 2005). Although Afrocentric beliefs had a positive relation to Black identity and internationalization attitudes, scholars admitted that it was not always possible to identify the conceptual divergences between ethnic and racial identity and Afrocentric values (Cockley, 2005).

Thus, some researchers viewed the development of Afrocentrism as the revelation of a crisis in the intellectual evaluation of culture and race. Crouch (1995) referred to Afrocentrism as “another of the clever but essentially simple-minded hustles” (p. 77). The scholar argued that the Afrocentric approach hardly had any intellectual substance to offer, being a collection of discontinuous actions and ideals. However, despite some criticism, many historians considered the Afrocentric Movement as a significant element of the Civil Rights Movement.

In the 1980s–2000s, HBCUs became places where the ideas of Afrocentrism found their most prominent reflection. However, prior to that time, many HBCUs lacked an understanding of such a crucial concept. For instance, White faculty members of HBCUs recollect that they learned about racial division only when they started working at such facilities. However, the same concerned many Black students who did not tend to know much about Afrocentrism before the 1960s (Closson & Henry, 2008). Recollecting their experience at HBCUs, White professors shared that they had been surprised at the low level of Black students’ awareness of Afrocentrism, as well as of their engagement in civil rights activism. However, within several decades, Afrocentric ideas entered the curriculum of HBCUs and became an important part of intellectual and cultural development.

The Afrocentric Movement focused on the bolstering of Black students’ understanding of their cultural origin and heritage. Although its significance underwent some criticism, it is evident that the movement played a vital role in shaping Black students’ identity and increasing their dedication to the purpose of gaining social equality. Probably the most significant ideas of the Afrocentric Movement was that African Americans should receive favorable treatment not only because of their humanity but also because of their contributions to the development of the USA as a country. Slavery and other crucial though negative social processes started before the initiation of the USA as an independent country.

Hence, the advocates of Afrocentricity emphasized the value of Blacks’ intellectual, labor, and spiritual functions in the USA. At the same time, it is impossible to overestimate the role of HBCUs in the process of establishing the Afrocentric Movement. Students, who had always been the moving power of social movements, actively participated in the establishment of Afrocentrism.

The Black Lives Matter Movement (2010s–Present)

With the advancement of technology and Internet access, modern social movements can engage more participants and spread information about their plans as well as achievements to vast numbers of people. The most evident changes in social movements over the past few decades included increased public and police violence against Black people (especially male ones). The most recent movement focused on African Americans’ fight for equality started in 2013 with a Twitter hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. It emerged because a White man, George Zimmerman, remained not prosecuted for the murder of a Black teenager, Trayvon Martin, in Florida (Banks, 2018).

Although the boy was unarmed, his murderer was acquitted, which raised a wave of protests from the African American community. Media reflected nonviolent demonstrations by Black Lives Matter activists as violent riots and referred to the group as to racist and “anti-law enforcement” (Banks, 2018, p. 709). However, it is impossible to deny the righteousness of the motives that aroused Blacks’ intention to gain justice.

Being a grassroots organization, Black Lives Matter evolved from a hashtag into a complex network that nowadays has about thirty branches in the USA and all over the world. The movement employs strategies favored by the Civil Rights Movement activists and focuses on nonviolent action to draw the public’s attention to police abuse and killings of Black people (Clayton, 2018). The Black Lives Matter Movement pursues the goals similar to those important to activists in previous decades, namely, resisting systematic oppression and racism. These negative social issues find reflection in the U.S. citizens considering Black individuals as criminals and their bodies as unimportant (Clayton, 2018). Despite a long history of civil rights activism, the Black Lives Matter movement bears much actuality since hardly any of the inequality problems found resolution during previous movements.

Black Lives Matter started in 2013, but it gained the pinnacle of its development in 2014 after a Black teenager, Michael Brown, was killed by a white police officer, Darren Wilson. The growing number of similar cases of unjustified violence against unarmed African Americans led to the bolstering of the movements’ activists’ ideas about the need to defend their cause (Banks, 2018). After Trayvon Martin’s murder, three females, Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors, created Tumblr and Twitter accounts for the movement where they encouraged users to share the hashtag ‘BlackLivesMatter’ (Banks, 2018).

The initial tweets reflected the impetus for the movement’s initiation: the women considered that Black liberation actions in the USA focused on heterosexual and cis-gendered men whereas it paid little attention to females and homosexuals. Hence, the Black Lives Matter movement concentrates on inequality and aims at increasing the level of inclusiveness for all African American individuals.

Those opposing the movement have developed several strategies to delegitimize it. The first strategy is the deployment of public memory, which resorts to the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and reminds that activists of that time were nonviolent indeed. Meanwhile, according to the media, Black Lives Matter is not as peaceful and thus deserves the condemnation of society (Banks, 2018). The second strategy favored by the media is that of decorum, which implies that the individuals who violate social norms of some public spaces should not receive access to them. The third strategy incorporates the reproduction of post-racial discourse (Banks, 2018). According to in, the Black Lives Matter activists unfairly accuse White people of Black individuals’ hardships. However, despite these accusations attempting to delegitimize the movement, Black Lives Matter is still one of the most influential campaigns in the history of African American struggle for equality.

Since HBCUs continue to have a significant effect on students’ identity development, it is necessary to understand the care-related reasons for young people’s choices of educational establishments. According to Van Camp, Barden, and Sloan (2009), the less racial centrality and contact, the more likely it is that Black students will join care-oriented clubs to promote racial identity. Therefore, it is viable to assume that the formation of identity, which later finds reflection in different movements, likely occurs at HBCUs for many young people. Since the Black Lives Matter movement originated among youth, it is possible to draw connections between the movement’s start and HBCUs’ cultivation of racial identity.

While HBCUs serve as a means for cultivating African Americans’ self-defending strategies and improving their position in society, there are also some negative implications of such institutions. Douglas (2012) argues that HBCUs may be responsible for the idealization and worship of important civil rights figures. What is more, some HBCUs’ leaders may wrongfully represent personal success as more valuable than collective effort and community responsibility. As a result, some activists may make inaccurate assumptions and draw wrong conclusions about the movements’ goals and strategies employed to fulfill them.

However, it would not be right to say that HBCUs impact on young Blacks is mainly negative. The evolution of African Americans’ achievements from the first HBCUs’ establishment to the last major movement demonstrates that these institutions play a rather crucial positive role in Black people’s achievement of social justice. Scholars report that political activism may perform the function of a coping strategy (Hope, Keels, & Durkee, 2016). Hence, it is possible to assume that the influence of HBCUs has been evident in all major social movements, including Black Lives Matter.

Summary and Conclusions

HBCUs may have been founded as institutions for meeting Black students’ educational needs, but they have become much more than that. Established in the period following the Civil War and until 1964, these colleges and universities were not only the only opportunity for Black students to obtain education (Gasman, n.d.). In fact, they enriched African Americans’ knowledge of their own culture and identity, enhanced their understanding of their race’s significance, and bolstered their self-pride. HBCUs gave the world many ardent activists of social movements who were not afraid to sacrifice their lives for the sake of other people’s freedom.

Many of the active participants of the New Negro Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement, the Black Studies Movement, and the Afrocentric Movement were HBCUs’ students. Although at present there is better access to education for Black students, the politics of HBCUs still inspire modern youth to arrange protests and defend their compatriots’ right to life and equality. The Black Lives Matter Movement is an excellent example of such inspiration.

At the same time, it is necessary to note that HBCUs need to reconsider some of their practices in order to comply with modern political and social processes. For instance, these institutions should reimagine the capacity of their campus environments to interrupt marginalizing actions and respect other ethnicities (Njoku, Butler, & Beatty, 2017). Additionally, HBCUs should add research to their agenda since this dimension is currently underrepresented in their mission statements (Stevenson, 2007).

However, even despite some criticism and failures, it is an undisputed fact that HBCUs have played a significant role in the formation of many generations of Black activists. The latter include civil rights defenders and leaders of their ethnicity who inspire many minds both of African American descent and of different origins. The beneficial effect of HBCUs’ functioning is evident through the achievements in the civil rights sphere and the improved position of the African American population in the USA.


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