HBCUs: A Rose Born of Adversity

A Rose Born of Adversity

Cultivated like a planted seed
This budding rose stems from roots
Solid, well fed and carefully kept
Roots that had little choice
Roots that were left to starve—

But those roots refused to wither...

Grow down, deeper and deeper
Down they expand and explore
As the bud ripens the petals open wide
A beautiful flower for all to see—
The product of roots digging deep
The product of sorrows and pride.

Legacy and Definition of an HBCU

HBCU stands for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The first three HBCUs were founded before the Civil War: Cheyney University of Pennsylvania (1837), Lincoln University (1854) and Wilberforce University (1856). With the exception of these 3 universities, HBCUs were founded between the years of 1865 and 1964. Concentrated in the former slave states, these institutions were founded with the purpose of providing education to black students. During these years nearly all other colleges and universities in former slave states denied admission to black students.

HBCUs have given us many notable black history figures, from civil rights activists to entertainers, from pulitzer prize winners to musicians. Howard University, one of the most well known HBCUs, is the alma mater of writers Toni Morrison and Paul Laurence Dunbar, actors Phylicia Rashad, Taraji P. Henson, and Anthony Anderson, and civil rights activists Ossie Davis and Benjamin Hooks[1]. Oprah Winfrey is an alumna of HBCU Tennessee State University[2] and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is an alumnus of Morehouse College[3]. Featured in Denzel Washington's movie The Great DebatersWiley College garnered national attention in 1935 when its debate team defeated national champion University of Southern California [4].

Spelman College was ranked #1 on US News &World Report's list of top HBCUs.
Many non-blacks that I have encountered believe that HBCUs are still segregated schools and that non-blacks cannot attend them. Contrarily, there are several HBCUs that actually have a non-black majority, though many HBCUs have roughly the same percentage of white students as PWIs (Predominately White Institutions) have black students. West Virginia State University, an HBCU, is 60.8% white[5]. North Carolina A&T University, another HBCU, is 7% white, while the University of North Carolina, a PWI, is 8% black[6].

There is a proud legacy in these colleges and universities that often goes unnoticed, trivialized, or otherwise diminished in the eyes of those who do not understand the history of such institutions. While it would be nice to see more diversity across all schools (both HBCUs and PWIs) now that we are in 2015, no one should deny the profound legacy these schools have had and continue to have upon the U.S. Check below for sources and references. Reference #7 contains a list of HBCUs as well as links to more information about each college or university.


  1. "Howard University". Biography; visited 2015
  2. "18 Famous Historically Black College and University Alumni". Huffington Post. October 28, 2012
  3. "King at Morehouse". Morehouse College; visited 2015
  4. Douglas Martin. "Henrietta Bell Wells, a Pioneering Debater, Dies at 96". NY Times. March 12, 2008
  5. "West Virginia State University Demographics". State University; visited 2015
  6. "UNC Chapel Hill Demographics". State university; visited 2015
  7. "US New & World Report HBCU Rankings". US News & World Report; visited 2015

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