February 29th, 2012
12:02 PM ET

Historically Black Colleges and Universities – Preserving the Dream

By John Martin, CNN

(CNN) - Howard, Morehouse, Spelman, Tuskegee, Xavier – these are just a few of America's Historically Black Colleges and Universities, known as HBCUs. HBCUs are accredited historically black institutions of higher learning established before 1964. While many of these colleges are located in the South, there are HBCUs as far north as Michigan and as far west as Oklahoma. While some HBCUs are public and others private, all of them serve a principle mission to educate black Americans.

Several Morehouse and Spelman college students who we interviewed recently discussed the diversity they see on campus. They told us that HBCUs are "not exclusively black" and also serve international students and students from other ethnicities. Morehouse junior Jarrad Mandeville-Lawson, who comes from Matawan, New Jersey, identified himself as "Nigerian, Italian and Greek," and said, "My high school is majority Caucasian so I don't actually have those strong African-American traits that people would assume I would have." In 2008, Joshua Packwood became the first white valedictorian in Morehouse's history.

Students from both schools talked about their schools’ nurturing environments. At Morehouse, one of America's few all-male campuses, the students talked about the school's strong tradition of a brotherhood. Mandeville-Lawson told us, "We're going to constantly have our brother's back and uplift them.....These are my brothers. I'm going to do everything possible to make sure they stay strong and to get them where they need to be." Spelman senior Gabrielle Horton echoed Mandeville-Lawson's sentiments. "When you think of Spelman you think of the 'Spelman Sisterhood' ... You're indoctrinated with that your first year ... They have their brother's back, we have our sister's back. And that's something we just carry with us every day," Horton said.

Today, more than 300,000 students are enrolled at the more than 100 HBCUs across America. HBCUs tend to be small schools. In 2009 only three had enrollments of over 10,000 students. Spelman and Morehouse each have between 2,000 to 3,000 students. The students we interviewed said smaller schools come with some advantages. Junior Kirstin Evans said, "At Spelman, I know every single one of my professors....So just like the intimate environment that Spelman holds, it's something that other students lack at bigger institutions."

The two Atlanta campuses are steeped in history and tradition. While neither school is the oldest HBCU – that honor goes to Philadelphia's Cheyney University – both schools were founded in the latter half of the 1800s. Horton remarked about Spelman's campus, "I think you have the sense of legacy that it's not just about you, and it is about your ancestors who came before you who were at these prestigious institutions and you have a legacy to carry on." Morehouse junior Reginald Sharpe said that the college's tradition and history were part of his decision to attend the school. "I knew that Morehouse was going to raise my appreciation for my heritage and cause me to take a trip back in time to realize who I am as an African-American, a young man in society," Sharpe said.

Sharpe mentioned that he likes to enter historic Sale Hall, where graduations were once held, and "breathe the air. It's a sense of belonging that I sense here."

We visited Sale Hall, and our guide told us that during Martin Luther King Jr.'s time, the big room upstairs was used as a chapel and that the students back then had assigned seats. As I stood in front of the room, I have never felt closer to history. Right in front of me was a teenaged Martin King’s seat, who sat in the front row in Sale Hall more than a decade before he would become the foremost civil rights leader of the 1960s. You'll see that historic seat in both videos on this page.

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soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Yepyep6598

    The Lincoln Republicans created the HBCUs after the civil war so what's your point TheIdiotAboveMe so could we state HBCUs were not created by the blackman and not created by the white democrats. Stop trying to inject race in everything you act as if african-americans are still getting off the boat and sold at auctions. Who is destroying your race your own people are killing each other in the ghettos not the white whiteman. The main death of black babies in New York was abortions last year, that should concern you and your cohorts, but no one wants to talk about it. Black people are silent on immigration, religious rights, foreign policy, gay marriage, gays in the military, states rights, Greece, European Crisis, it seems like your Congressional Black Cacus and black leaders are silent and I wonder why. All those issues have been in the forefront, yet those who called themselves black leaders are silent and maybe they are not allowed to speak unless they have permission from the white liberals. The only issue you will speak about is race speak on all issues and maybe people will respect you more, the more black keep hollering about race the more people tune you out because it's the same old words coming from the same old people.

    March 7, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  2. TheTruth

    a reply to smitvict most colleges have a majority of whites within there population so why are complaining

    March 5, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  3. DIVERSITY EXISTS AT HBCU'S

    The HBCU'S are very divers.There are many from all back grounds learning at
    these wonderful places of education. I am glad to see people who can think outside
    the box. THANKGOD FOR THESE GREAT PLACES OF EDUCATION.

    March 1, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  4. smitvict

    "Historically White Colleges and Universities – Preserving the Dream" OMG How Racist!! Does it cease to be racist when I replace "White" with "Black"?

    February 29, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • TheIdiotAboveMe

      1) There are "historically white colleges" every other college in america- Harvard, Princeton and the rest banned blacks from attending- that why HBCU's were created you moron
      2) My school Howard for example was created by a white man in 1867 to give blacks after the civil war a path to higher education

      March 7, 2012 at 5:46 am |