The History of The HBCU and Why Homecoming Is So Important

Pull up as we peel back the history behind the fight for Black education and include this year’s HBCU homecoming schedule.

HBCU’s are Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Blacks weren’t allowed to be educated in America, so in systematic resilience we formed are own education systems, colleges and universities; with the first private HBCU being a school for blacks who had escaped slavery through the underground railroad. It’s name? Wilberforce University, founded 1856 in Ohio. It closed in 1862 and reopened in 1863 as part of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) church we all know and love today!

Students of Wilberforce University, late 1800’s

HBCU Movement Grows

Following the Civil War, HBCU’s were being founded throughout the South. Three of those inagural organizations were none other than Clark University (1865), Howard University (1867) and Morehouse College (1867). Spelman, an all women’s college, soon followed in 1881, although at the time, it was known as Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary.

By 1953, more-than 75,000 students were enrolled in public and private black college and universities. These institutions of education would deeply impact African-American families for generations to come. This is no more evident than in the  Department of Education’s report that 75% of all current Black Americans holding a doctorate degree, 75% of all Black officers in the armed forces, and 80% of all Black federal judges all come from HBCU’s.

America’s History of Exclusion and The Power of Gathering

The United States has generationally come up with ways to bar Black Americans from the power of unified education.

Let’s start with the Virginia Revised Code of 1819: “That all meetings or assemblages of slaves, or free negroes or mulattoes mixing and associating with such slaves at any meeting-house or houses, in the night; or at any school or schools for teaching them READING OR WRITING, either in the day or night, under whatsoever pretext, shall be deemed and considered an UNLAWFUL ASSEMBLY; … wherein such assemblage shall… inflict corporal punishment on the offender or offenders, at the discretion of any justice of the peace, not exceeding twenty lashes.”

Up to twenty lashes would be given to any teacher or student involved in educating Black people.

Or take for example, the 1847 Virginia Criminal Code: “Any white person who shall assemble with slaves, [or] free negroes . . . for the purpose of instructing them to read or write, . . . shall be punished by confinement in the jail . . . and by fine . . .” For this, Margaret Douglass, of Norfolk, Virginia, a former slaveholder, was arrested, imprisoned, and fined when authorities discovered that she was teaching “free colored children” of the Christ’s Church Sunday school to read and write.

This is why it had to be Blacks who had escaped slavery via the underground railroad who were being taught in the nation’s first privately owned HBCU in 1856. It was this onslaught on assembly, against the power of people talking, exchanging ideas and growing, that most threatened the white supremacist heart of America. It was this fear that created the Black Codes, under which free Blacks couldn’t even assemble without the presence of a white person.

Insecure much?! Yes absolutely. But it’s this power that makes HBCU Homecoming SO SPECIAL, so powerful… so important and necessary to our continued growth as people.

The Tuskegee University Marching Band going off

Wherever groups of like-minded people gather, ideas are exchanged, growth happens, powerful unions are created; mix in melanin and the lanes of liberation are opened with the seeds of continued revolution blossoming. Not to mention, the simple defiance of personal joy that comes along with cultural gatherings in your community. This is why alums of Howard come back year after year. This is why not only college kids enrolled in Mississippi Valley State University are excited for homecoming, but their friends and families are too. People simply wanna be connected. People simply must be connected for personal and communal change.

If you wanna connect with HBCU homecoming, here’s a full schedule for the 2021 season.

November 20, 2021: Homecoming ends at Claflin University

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