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Celebrating the Enduring Legacy of Historically Black Colleges and Universities by Briana Jernigan

by April 17, 2024 3

On February 28, 2024, the Meaningful Movies Project hosted an online screening of Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities directed by Marco Williams and Stanley Nelson Jr. The documentary dives into the origins of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and unravels untold stories of how HBCUs became beacons of hope and safe havens for Black intellectuals, thinkers, artists, and revolutionaries.

Not only was the documentary screened during Black History Month, I was personally excited about this screening because I am a proud graduate of Southern University and A&M College, an HBCU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. During my time at Southern, I learned about the highest of peaks and the darkest of hours, along with the history and legacy of our alumni. Southern originally opened its doors in New Orleans in 1880 but reopened in 1914 on Scott’s Bluff, the famous location of the “red stick” that Baton Rouge is named after. The campus is located on a former plantation, which speaks to the themes in this documentary of what Black people had to endure to get these institutions of higher learning. The Southern University System remains the sole historically Black university system in America with campuses in Baton Rouge, Shreveport, and New Orleans, as well as a law school and an agricultural center.

HBCUs have long been pillars of educational excellence, community empowerment, and social progress in the United States. From their humble beginnings in the face of segregation to their present-day role as centers of academic innovation and cultural pride, HBCUs have left an indelible mark on American history and society. Today, I will briefly explore the rich legacy of HBCUs and their ongoing contributions to shaping a more inclusive and equitable future.

A Legacy of Resilience:

The story of HBCUs is one of resilience in the face of adversity. Born out of the necessity to provide higher education opportunities to African Americans who were systematically excluded from predominantly white institutions, HBCUs emerged as beacons of hope and opportunity. HBCUs started out as land-grant institutions and are officially recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as “historically Black colleges.” Despite facing limited resources, discriminatory policies, and social stigma, HBCUs persevered, nurturing generations of scholars, leaders, and change-makers.

Educational Excellence:

Throughout their history, HBCUs have consistently demonstrated a commitment to academic excellence and student success. These institutions have produced trailblazers in fields ranging from politics and science to business and the arts. Notable alumni of HBCUs include civil rights leaders and cultural icons such as Martin Luther King Jr., Toni Morrison, Spike Lee, Langston Hughes, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Zora Neale Hurston, and Oprah Winfrey. The academic programs offered by HBCUs are often tailored to meet the unique needs and aspirations of their students, fostering a supportive learning environment where individuals can thrive and reach their full potential.


Cultural Significance:

Beyond their academic achievements, HBCUs hold immense cultural significance within the Black American community and beyond. These institutions serve as treasure troves of history, culture, and tradition. HBCUs preserve and celebrate the rich heritage of African Americans. From homecoming celebrations and Greek life to renowned marching bands and athletic programs, HBCUs cultivate a strong sense of pride and belonging among their students, communities, and alumni. The vibrant campus life and sense of community found at HBCUs contribute to a transformative college experience that extends far beyond the classroom.

Empowering Communities:

HBCUs play a vital role in empowering communities and driving social change. By providing access to higher education for underserved populations, these institutions serve as engines of upward mobility and economic development. HBCUs also serve as hubs for research, innovation, and community engagement, addressing pressing issues facing marginalized communities and advancing solutions to complex societal challenges. Through partnerships with local organizations, businesses, and government agencies, HBCUs leverage their resources and expertise to effect positive change and foster sustainable development. HBCUs have contributed to widespread voter registration in the South and have helped underserved communities share their voices.


Moving Forward:

As we reflect on the legacy of HBCUs, it is clear that their impact extends far beyond the walls of any campus or the boundaries of any community. These institutions have played a central role in shaping the trajectory of American history and continue to be at the forefront of efforts to create a more just, equitable, and inclusive society. As we look ahead to the future, it is essential that we continue to support and invest in HBCUs, ensuring that they have the resources and opportunities needed to thrive and fulfill their mission of educating the next generation of leaders and change-makers.

In conclusion, the legacy of Historically Black Colleges and Universities is one of resilience,
excellence, and empowerment. From their origins in the era of segregation to their present-day
prominence, HBCUs have remained steadfast in their commitment to providing quality education and fostering social progress. As we celebrate the achievements of HBCUs past and present, let us also recommit ourselves to supporting these institutions and honoring their enduring legacy for generations to come.


Written by Briana Jernigan, Meaningful Movies Project Volunteer Blogger/Writer.

3 Comments so far

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  1. Kiah
    #1 Kiah 18 April, 2024, 08:12

    This was beautifully written and it shows the significance and importance of HBCUs not just in the past but going forward. Thank you so much!

    Reply to this comment
    • Melinda Raebyne
      Melinda Raebyne Author 18 April, 2024, 17:07

      Thank you, Kiah, for taking the time to read this article and your feedback. Briana did a wonderful job laying out the history of HBCU and its impact. We hope to see you at one of our upcoming screenings.

      Reply to this comment
  2. J. Owens Retired USAF
    #2 J. Owens Retired USAF 21 April, 2024, 17:57

    I agree with this article. Thank you for bringing this film to light. I look forward to watching it in its entirety. HBCUs are very important staples in Black American culture.

    Reply to this comment

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