How the Black Colleges Beyoncé Honors in Homecoming Have Played a Vital Role in American HistoryBreaking News
tags: American History, music, Beyonce, HBCU, Black Colleges
The well-received release on Wednesday of Beyoncé’s documentary Homecoming has sparked interest in the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to which she pays tribute throughout the film. “I always dreamed of going to an HBCU,” she says, and the Coachella performance at the center of Homecoming was a musical and visual homage to those institutions. Even the film’s title references the most beloved tradition of HBCUs.
This moment — a worldwide celebration of HBCU culture — has been more than one and three-quarter centuries in the making. But the feeling of unity expressed by Beyoncé’s loving tribute goes even deeper than viewers may know: throughout that history, HBCUs have contributed to every sphere of American life.
Despite their history formally beginning with the founding of Cheyney University of Pennsylvania in 1837, most stories of HBCUs start in the wake of the Civil War, with the vast majority of successful institutions largely dependent on interracial or white political and philanthropic leadership.
The passage of the Morrill Land Grant Acts of 1862 and of 1890, in providing for the creation of land-grant colleges in the United States, forced the creation of a handful of public black colleges in the former slave states. The names of these schools — from Florida A&M to Tennesse A&I — speak to the circumstances of their creation by reflecting their agricultural, industrial, mechanical and technical instructional philosophies. Even with their prodigious histories and contemporary successes, these HBCUs are arguably less well known than their private liberal arts counterparts. Most of these schools — for example, Shaw, Fisk, Howard, Morehouse, Meharry, Spelman and Wiley colleges — are the namesakes of their white former Union Army benefactors.