Community & Government

Why HBCUs?

Writer and journalism professor Jelani Cobb discusses the importance of historically Black colleges and universities and the role they have played since before the Civil War, educating Black luminaries like Thurgood Marshall and many others.

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Topics include: Uplift Work • The Demostration that Altered Howard

Seven preeminent Black thought leaders share their insight on the reckoning with race in America in three parts: past, present, and future.

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JELANI COBB: My name is Jelani Cobb. I'm a staff writer at "The New Yorker" and a professor of journalism at Columbia University. And I always credited Howard for teaching me the fact that I actually had this capacity to write. When I walked in the door, I didn't think I wrote well enough to even deserve a position in college. But within a few weeks, I understood that writing was important to me, and it was something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life. That was the first semester at Howard and what I learned there. I'm still writing. [MUSIC PLAYING] One of the crucial things from me in understanding Howard, and also in understanding my place in this world, is the fact that I'm the son of a man who had a third-grade education, grew up in a segregated town in Georgia where Black people just weren't allowed to go any further in school than he did. And so education was this missing piece in his life. And it was very important that his children be able to get more formal education than he was. [MUSIC PLAYING] I was a high school baseball player, and I played right field. And I was friends with a kid who played first base. His father just kind of struck up a conversation. This was senior year. And he wanted to know if I'd made any decisions about college, and I really didn't know. I was the first one in my family to go to college. Unfortunately, my parents couldn't really be of a whole lot of assistance in deciding what school was right for me. And his father, Sherman Brown, was a Howard alum, as was his wife, Dr. Brown-- said, have you considered Howard? And just talking with them, my entire sense of what my options were began to expand. And I didn't know anything about a system of Black colleges, what we call HBCUs now, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, nothing. And it was really through talking to them and seeing all the things that they had been able to achieve-- Mr. Brown was an entrepreneur, a very respected member of the community. Dr. Brown was a psychologist and a professor. And I thought, if this place seems to have been as good as they say, maybe I should give it a try. It was as simple as that. And I applied to Howard on the basis of their recommendation. When I was accepted to Howard, it was this tremendous thing. The family was very excited. But I had no frame of reference for college, and I really didn't know if I belonged there. If you want to know, really, how to define the tradition that I understood at Howard that exists at many other HBCUs too-- it was not unique to the one that I attended-- to me, the best illustration of that is an image of a group of Howard students-- Howard University is in Washington DC-- there's a group of Howard students lining Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House in the 1930s with nooses around their necks. They're standing out to protest the Roosevelt administration's inaction on lynching and to demand that the government do something...

About the Instructor

From critical race theory to the 1619 Project, Black intellectuals are reshaping conversations on race in America. Now seven of those preeminent voices share their insight on the reckoning with race in America in three parts: past, present, and future. Gain a foundational understanding of the history of white supremacy and discover a path forward through the limitless capacity and resilience of Black love.

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Nikole Hannah-Jones, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Cornel West, John McWhorter, Angela Davis, Jelani Cobb, and Sherrilyn Ifill

Seven preeminent Black thought leaders share their insight on the reckoning with race in America in three parts: past, present, and future.

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