The Civil Rights Movement and HBCUs


The 1960’s were a period of social upheaval all over the country. The Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement were taking place along side of each other and both were feeding to the hysteria and the changes the country was going through at that time. As African–Americans fought for their equality at home, soldiers, many of which were African – American themselves were fighting against the spread of Communism in Northern Vietnam.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities took up the call when tasked with trying to achieve equality. At Shaw University in Raleigh, NC in 1960, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was founded during a conference of about 300 students. The group, who was founded by Ella Baker quickly moved from sit – in protests to becoming very involved in the Freedom Rides (where activists rode buses into the segregated Southern states), the Albany Movement, and the famous march on Washington, where Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Men weren’t the only people fighting for equality. According to Eddie R. Cole’s article, African American Women at HBCUs During the Civil Rights Movement (Journal of the Indiana University Student Personnel Association), “men led but African American women organized” the movement from 1955–1968. Women provided Civil Rights workers with places to eat and sleep, but also turned out in higher numbers at mass demonstrations and attempted to register to vote more often than men. Unfortunately, women were also subject to the more violent crimes of the day and they were fired from jobs if they were even rumored to be involved in the movement.

Even now to this day, Presidents of HBCUs still stand up for Civil Rights. Norman Francis, the president of Xavier University in Louisiana since 1968 advised President Obama that the major problem in America is not inequality, but inequity. “If the glasses are unequal, we are not going to achieve equality by pouring the same amount of water in each glass. We have to pour the glass of water equitably.”

Francis also believes that we should rethink our priorities when it comes to educating children. That paying professional athletes and celebrities so much money to entertain but we unwilling to pay he people who teach “our precious children” a decent salary is incongruous and we should elevate the teaching profession, make it more desirable monetarily to attract the best and brightest to the profession. It is clear that the struggle for Civil Rights is always ongoing and HBCUs will always be at the forefront.