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5 Black Colleges That Changed America

5 Black Colleges That Changed America

Discover five black colleges that made a big impact on the U.S.

Adam Starr, MonsterCollege

February 08, 2010

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically… Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” Martin Luther King Jr.

February is Black History Month, and MonsterCollege is celebrating the event by taking a look at the most famous black colleges in the nation. Long before Barack Obama was President, these academic institutions have demonstrated excellence by providing priceless educations for generations of American leaders. The current first lady, Michelle Obama lives in a White House that was partially built by slaves and, incredibly, her own great-great grandfather was himself a slave. Her family’s remarkable history reminds us how such academic institutions enable progress and constant self-improvement through the twin beacons of perseverance and education.

#1 Howard University

Motto: Veritas et Utilitas (Truth and Service)

This private, federally chartered university in Washington, D.C. was founded shortly after the Civil War, when members of the first Congregational Society of Washington established a university for the education of African American men. The university took its name from General Oliver O. Howard, a Civil War hero and commissioner of the Freedman’s Bureau. Since 1926, the university has received an annual federal appropriation for development, construction and improvement. The late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Nobel Laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, and civil rights leader and former UN Ambassador Andrew Young are among the university’s distinguished alumni. Its library is the leading research library on African American history.

#2 Tennessee State University

Motto: “Enter to learn; go forth to serve”

Oprah Winfrey’s alma mater, Tennessee State University, was founded in Nashville, Tennessee as a land-grant university. It began as a regional and agricultural black college and has grown today to a nationally recognized school with students matriculating from 42 states and 45 countries. Oprah graduated in 1986 and has gone on to surpass eBay CEO Meg Whitman as the wealthiest self-made woman in the nation. Perhaps you’ve even heard of her…

#3 Spelman College

Motto: “Our Whole School for Christ”

A celebrated women’s college in Atlanta, Georgia, Spelman was founded by Miss Sophia B. Packard and Miss Harriet Giles, two missionary friends who begun studying the living conditions “among the freedmen of the South” in 1879. Aghast at the lack of educational opportunities for black women, they worked at creating a Baptist Seminary in 1881 and eventually got principal funding to expand from John D. Rockefeller. Originally, Spelman was called the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary, changing its name to Spelman Seminary in 1884, a tribute to Lucy Harvey Spelman, John Rockefeller’s mother-in law.

#4 North Carolina Agriculture and Technical (A&T) State

Motto: Mens et Manus (Mind and Hand)

This land-grant university in Greensboro, North Carolina, is the biggest publicly funded black college on our list. The college was founded in 1891 and has become one of the leading universities for engineering in the nation; it also matriculates one of the largest concentrations of African American Certified Public Accountants. In 1967, the school was elevated to “university” status and became a member of the University of North Carolina system in 1972. The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., a well-known civil rights activist, and the late astronaut Dr. Ronald McNair are among the university’s distinguished alumni. The school likes to note that its alumni have both run for President of the United Stated of America and been to space.

#5 Morehouse College

College Motto: “Et Facta Est Lux” (And There Was Light)

The only all male, historically black institution in the United States, Morehouse College has been graduating leaders, thinkers, politicians and artists since 1867. Founded two years after the Civil War, the school started as a Baptist seminary before moving to downtown Atlanta, GA. As with Spelman, John D. Rockefeller was a benefactor at Morehouse, donating the land of the school’s present location. Morehouse’s most famous graduate, Martin Luther King Jr., is one of America’s most important leaders, a preacher with a reverence for justice who spoke eloquently on peace and civil rights. The college also boasts a 10,000-piece collection of handwritten notes and unpublished sermons of the late MLK Jr. Not to be excluded from the world of entertainment, Morehouse is also the alma mater to filmmaker Spike Lee and actor Samuel L. Jackson.


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