NEW ORLEANS, La. (NewsNation Now) ––– Leaders like Vice President Kamala Harris, Senator Raphael Warnock, Walgreens CEO Roz Brewer, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell are all alumnus from Historically Black Colleges and Universities. They have all frequently discussed the value HBCUs hold today and how these institutions have propelled them to their respective positions.
There was a time in American history when African Americans were not allowed to go to school or read. After anti-literacy laws were dismantled, Black people in America were only permitted to receive education in segregated classrooms. That’s how Historically Black Colleges and Universities came into existence. According to the U.S. Department of Education, there are more than 100 Historically Black Colleges and Universities that operate today with more than 228,000 students enrolled.
At just 14 years old Traelon Rogers knew he wanted to be a civil rights attorney. The death of Michael Brown in 2014 was one of the events that spurred him to action.
“It was those two moments that made me realize this is what I want to do. I want to fight until I don’t have to fight,” Rogers said.
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The Dallas native joined a law magnet school for high school and set his sights on creating equality and change in the U.S. upon graduation, he chose to go to an HBCU.
Now, as a 21-year-old senior at Dillard University in New Orleans, he’s one step closer to fulfilling his dream of fighting for civil rights in the courtroom.
“I chose to fight on the frontlines instead of getting hit later on with it. The reality of it is we have to pick and choose when we want to fight. We all have to fight injustices at some point and some level,” Rogers said.
The U.S. Department of Education said that prior to the Civil War, there was no structured higher education system for Black students. Laws prohibited the education of Black people in parts of the nation. Then in 1837, the Institute for Colored Youth in Pennsylvania became the first higher education institution for African Americans.
In 1869, support from the American Missionary Association of the Congregational Church and the Freedmen’s Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church founded Straight University and the Union Normal School. In 1930, New Orleans University and Straight College merged to form Dillard University.
Landmark Supreme Court decisions made it possible for all people to go to the school of their choosing. But Dr. Walter Kimbrough says true equality in education was not necessarily achieved through integration. He is the current president of Dillard University .
“Growing up in Atlanta and my dad was from Atlanta, he couldn’t go to the University of Georgia because it was not integrated until 1961 and that was done by court order. I went to the University of Georgia in 1985 so within 25 years after integration,” said Dr. Walter Kimbrough.
He says HBCUs still have value in society today.
“In the last 20 to 30 years, people are saying we don’t need HBCU’s anymore because everything is integrated. You can do all these kinds of things and it doesn’t prepare you for the real world. So how can you interact with the real world if you’ve gone to school with mostly black people, well the civil right generation proved that,” said Dr. Kimbrough. “That’s exactly how they went to school and they galvanized everyone! And on the flip side, we don’t ever say that about people who’ve gone to overwhelming white institutions. No one says ‘well how can you work with Black people because you’ve didn’t go to school with them’.”
Kimbrough said HBCUs are not black only, but for all students and professors of various backgrounds. He said at Dillard University about 20% of the students are not African American.
Dillard is a private intuition that receives majority of funding through donations.
“We are under-resourced institutions that serve under-resourced people. So if about 35% of all nationally receive the federal Pell Grant, which roughly means you come from a family that earned less than $40,000. For HBCUs that number is about 70% at Dillard, we are 75% Pell Grant eligible. So we have lots of high need students,” said Dr. Kimbrough.
He says many public HBCUs have had a lack of government funding throughout the years, which is why private donations are so valuable.
In 2020 the ex-wife of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Mackenzie Scott granted millions of dollars to at least 13 HBCU’s including Howard University, Xavier University of Louisiana, Hampton University, Morehouse College, Elizabeth City State University, Norfolk State and Tuskegee University.