Paying Homage to Black Institutions


Paying Homage to Black Institutions


In history, the educational system suffered discrimination in various aspects of their lives. Education is a big part of it. Fighting through separate and unequal setbacks, African American people developed their own educational institutions and organizations that still live on today. In the Black community, education was a way of independence and prosperity.

Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) were created to establish an educational avenue for Blacks. Before the Civil War, there was a lack of educational institutions for Blacks. According to the U.S. Department of Education, public policy and certain statutory provisions prohibited blacks’ education in various parts of the nation.

HBCU alumni representing her alma mater, Southern University and A&M College
Picture by: Keis Photography

Despite these challenges, Black institutions established universities and colleges to adhere to educating the Black communities. The Institute for Colored Youth, the first higher education institution for blacks, was founded in Cheyney, Pennsylvania, in 1837. By 1867, nine historically Black universities and colleges (HBCUs) were established: Barber-Scotia CollegeFayetteville State University, Johnson C. Smith UniversityMorehouse College, St. Augustine’s UniversityTalladega College, Alabama State UniversityMorgan State University, and Howard University.

Then, history changed with the 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson.  The case established a “separate but equal” doctrine in public education. The “separate but equal” principle of Plessy decisions stipulated: (1) a state must offer schooling for blacks as soon as it provided it for whites; (2) black students must receive the same treatment as white students; and (3) a state must provide facilities of comparable quality for Black and White students.

By 1953, more than 32,000 students were enrolled in well known private black institutions. However, in 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education rejected the “separate but equal” doctrine. The case stated that racially segregated public schools deprive black children of equal protection guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Plessy decision was overturned, and Black students were admitted to predominately white institutions (PWIs).

Despite Blacks now entering into PWIs, most HBCUs remained segregated with poorer facilities and budgets than PWIs. Many public HBCUs closed or merged with PWIs. Fighting against the discrimination, Black people continued to push education in their communities. The creation of sororities and fraternities in HBCUs and PWIs, or the Divine 9, was another way to show the importance of education. The Divine 9 formed The National Pan-Hellenic Council. The organization promotes academic excellence and serves the communities they serve. Each promotes community awareness and action through educational, economic, and cultural service activities.


Model wearing an Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc. sorority sweater
Model: Amanda Adams
Picture by: Keis Photography

Fraternities and sororities have substantially made an impact at HBCUs and in the culture we see today. Movies such as Stomp the Yard and School Daze show the evolution of the characters’ depth and growth. These references represent a clear picture of the Black community: unity and togetherness. As HBCU Today stated eloquently: “The Black of Greek legacy, which dates back to the turn of the twentieth century, goes deeper than the social and entertainment aspects of fraternities and sororities. It is rooted in a long-standing commitment to service to others, appreciation for history and tradition, self-respect, and belief in the personal bonds of sisterhood and brotherhood.”

Some people believe that HBCUs are no longer relevant, and their purpose is now outdated. Others argue that HBCUs do not prepare students for the real world. Despite these remarks, HBCUs have produced some of the best startup founders, tech executives, investors, and politicians of our time that have paved the way for generations to come. Influential people such as Oprah Winfrey (Tennessee State University), Walgreen’s new CEO Rosalind G. Brewer (Spelman College), Vice President Kamala Harris (Howard University), and the inventor of the water gun Super Soaker, Lonnie Johnson (Tuskegee University), have made history in the U.S. culture.

Today, there are  107 HBCUs in the U.S., with well over 228,000 students enrolled in the institutions. These students and their alumni have achieved greatness in the U.S.


HBCU graduate & AKA sorority sister representing Black culture
Model: Amanda Adams
Picture by: Keis Photography

A list of some more accomplishments of HBCUs:

  • More than 80 percent of all Black Americans who received degrees in medicine and dentistry were trained at the two traditionally black medicine and dentistry institutions–Howard University and Meharry Medical College. (Today, these institutions still account for 19.7 percent of degrees awarded in medicine and dentistry to black students.)
  • HBCUs have provided undergraduate training for three-fourths of all black persons holding a doctorate, three-fourths of all black officers in the armed forces, and four-fifths of all black federal judges.
  • HBCUs are leading institutions in awarding baccalaureate degrees to black students in the life sciences, physical sciences, mathematics, and engineering.
  • HBCUs continue to rank high in terms of the proportion of graduates who pursue and complete graduate and professional training.


Many HBCU graduates have a love for the university they graduated from. Some have expressed:

“If you went to an HBCU, you’d likely run into fellow graduates from the same school in the real-world, and when you do, you’ll share an immediate bond. The HBCU alumni network has a plethora of opportunities and lifelong friends. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.”

Taryn Finley, Huffington Post