Historically Black Colleges & Universities
Historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, are sources of great pride for African American communities both in the South and the nation. Often under-funded and -appreciated, these historic colleges were established as sites of literacy, craftsmanship, and job training in the period following American Civil War. These schools launched many working-class black students towards lives in skilled trades, and, in the 20th century, professional work in STEM and humanities. The list of accomplished HBCU alumni includes Martin Luther King, W.E.B. Dubois, Thurgood Marshall, and Oprah Winfrey, among many others. HBCU schools produce almost 35 percent of all bachelor’s degrees earned by black graduates in astronomy, biology, chemistry, and physics.
107 HBCUs remain today as sites of high achievement; over half offer postgraduate degrees. Their opportunities for mentorship and advanced training rank them high among job satisfaction for black graduates. According to a report from the National Science Foundation, eight of the top 10 institutions producing black undergrads who went on to earn science and engineering doctorates were HBCUs.
HBCUs in Central Appalachia are among the oldest in the country. Notable amongst these are Swift Memorial Institute, Morristown College, Knoxville College, Bluefield State College, West Virginia State University, and Berea College, spread across West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. These were founded by passionate abolitionists and civil rights activists in the hostile climate of the Jim Crow South. Despite the barriers of history and the present, in 2017, they can count in their legacy contributions to civil rights work, groundbreaking artistic movements such as the Harlem Renaissance, and the creation of a black middle class in America.
East Tennessee PBS is working to ensure that legacy lives, by preserving the stories of our local HBCUs, and documenting their many contributions to the history and culture of Central Appalachia and Tennessee.