Reconstruction-Era Politics Shaped Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Alcorn_State_University,_Oakland_Chapel,_Alcorn_State_University_Campus,_Alcorn_vicinity_(Claiborne_County,_Mississippi)

Oakland Chapel at Alcorn State University, Mississippi

From Process by Leigh Soares:

Last month, Governor John Bel Edwards proposed a potential $1 billion cut to Louisiana’s higher education budget. In response to this news, the president of Southern University, a public university in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, called for support from the public and asked them to oppose these funding cuts. Over the past several years, Southern University System in Louisiana—the only historically black college system in America—has faced significant financial turmoil. Like many public black colleges, Southern is struggling to survive.

Southern University is featured in one the most powerful segments in Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities, the latest film by award-winning documentarian Stanley Nelson, which airs on PBS on February 19. The film highlights the value of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in America by tracing their history from slavery to present. The segment on Southern University links the history of HBCUs to twentieth-century themes of student activism, black self-determination, and violent repression.

Yet the film pays little attention to the founding of public HBCUs like Southern, which, in many cases, we owe to nineteenth-century black politicians who used their influence to press for the creation and development of colleges and universities. Today, as HBCUs continue to face brutal funding cuts and neglect, state governments would do well to remember and honor that history.

Read the rest of the article at Process: a Blog for American History

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Categories: African American History

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