To renovate or rebuild at HBCU’s
Last week on my Facebook page, my followers and I engaged in one of the most thoughtful and respectful debates about whether old buildings at HBCU’s should be modernized or razed to erect new structures. As my real life friends include a number of architects and builders, like my ace Kenneth Taite, it was fascinating to learn more about how long-term planning and cost effectiveness often determine which route is the best to take in these matters and in fairness, there were cogent arguments made both for and against the issue.
Another real life friend, Delaitre Hollinger, in his capacity as the leader of a Black Historical Preservation Foundation and the NAACP, has penned a very respectful letter asking for Florida A&M University to consider sparing Truth Hall due to its historical importance. In his missive, Hollinger notes that he is a fifth generation Tallahassee native, a FAMU alumnus, and concerned that demolitions of historical registry dorms like McGuinn, Diamond, and Cropper Halls in recent years demolished so much history in the process.
I have shared similar thoughts in the past, and as a fourth generation Tallahasseean and second generation Rattler who attended FAMU High as a child (and earned a master’s from FAMU as a young adult), I, too, would like to see as much of its physical plant preserved as is feasible.
As many of you know, FAMU is the only publicly funded HBCU in the State University System of Florida. The University of Florida and Florida State University, also public schools, have buildings on campus that are far older than FAMU’s Truth Hall that have been renovated via taxpayer funds over the past several decades.
Thus, it is important for all of us to remember that the State of Florida has historically underfunded FAMU in so many ways, so while private donations from Rattler alumni are always great, the improvement of the FAMU physical plant is THE primary responsibility of the Florida legislature—not private gifts like private HBCUs and PWI’s are forced to subsist upon. Which is why I tend to counter the argument that FAMU needs to tear down the old and build anew to compete for top scholars specious at best because many of the top public and private HBCUs (and PWIs) with similarly illustrious histories to FAMU’s somehow are still enrolling top scholars who now study in ancient buildings erected hundreds of years ago that have been modernized with the latest amenities—all the while holding the history that ties those schools’ past to the present and the future.
My love for HBCU’s started at home
As previously mentioned, my parents met on the campus of Florida A&M in the 1960s and before we moved back to Tallahassee in 1980, they were always proud to discuss their alma mater with me and my siblings.
When we arrived in Tallahassee, my mother took me to FAMU High School and introduced me to her old principal, the late Matthew H. Estaras. What stood out to me that day was that outside of his office, there was a large poster that had the caption “Be Somebody…Be a Morehouse Man!”
Mr. Estaras’s poster had several Black males wearing suits, sporting big Afros, glasses, and looking sharp as razors! I recognized the school name because my momma had been not so subtely planting the seeds in my mind since I was a toddler that she wanted me to attend “the same school that Dr. Martin Luther King attended,” so seeing that poster provided a visual to what I had been told about for several years.
Later, as a student at FAMU High (K-12), our student body was always invited to the annual college fairs that would take place in the Perry-Paige building on campus, and it was there that we encountered recruiters from HBCU’s from as far west as Prairie View A&M to as far north as Lincoln University of Pennsylvania.
Also, as a member Jack and Jill of America, several of the old “Up the Hill” yearbooks that my momma received each year contained about 100 pages of information about each then existing HBCU! In the spring of ‘87, our Tallahassee J/J chapter embarked upon an HBCU tour, and while I totally enjoyed touring Alabama State University, Albany State University, and Fort Valley State for the very first time, I was BLOWN AWAY by our visit to Tuskegee University and learning all about the rich history of that school—and the fact that its early buildings were designed and built by formerly enslaved Black hands!
So, by the end of 9th grade, Morehouse had some competition in my mind from Tuskegee and Howard University, where the part of me that never quite got over leaving Maryland longed to return to the DMV, and I figured that a Howard education would provide that opportunity.
But then 10th grade came along, and on the weekend of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church lock-in that was attended by well over 100 Black Tallahassee teenagers, the church leaders took us to the old Parkway Five movie theater to watch Morehouse alumnus Spike Lee’s School Daze. At that point, I had yet to visit Morehouse or the Atlanta University Center, so seeing the campus on the big screen, and the serious debates and shenanigans of students at fictional “Mission College” placed Morehouse squarely back in the lead for my future collegiate home.
Now, I often have people ask why I didn’t stay home and attend FAMU as an undergrad and, once again, both of my parents felt that it was important for me to have some new scholastic experiences. My dad often said that “a boy needs to leave home and find his way in the world,” so as I moved closer to my senior year of high school, while I had a box filled with scores of recruitment letters from PWI’s like Duke, Princeton, Rutgers, Emory, Mercer, and almost daily letters from the University of Florida, my final four during my senior year of high school was Morehouse, Howard, Tuskegee, Hampton, and Southern University, the latter primarily due to my affinity for the “Human Jukebox” marching band—and the crush that I had on the Southern University Alpha Kappa Alpha line sisters that my first cousin Rolanda Hobbs brought by our house en route to Daytona 😆.
Looking back, I was really torn my senior year between choosing Morehouse or Howard, but when I got the below brochure in the mail, one that featured a group of Morehouse Brothers looking just as focused as the original “Be Somebody…Be a Morehouse Man” poster that I had admired nearly a decade earlier in Mr. Estaras’s office, I took it as a sign that my destiny awaited in Southwest Atlanta.
32 years later, as we Morehouse Men celebrate Founder’s Day (February 14, 1867), I still consider it the best decision that a young Hobbs made!
Black History Hobbservation
During the latter stages of the U.S. Civil War, the Union Army erected Fort Pillow near Memphis, Tennessee as an earthen fortification to overlook the Mississippi River. The Fort was inhabited by approximately 277 white soldiers of the Tennessee Cavalry, which was mostly comprised of former rebel soldiers who upon capture, switched sides and swore allegiance to the United States. Fort Pillow also was manned by 270 blacks from the U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery and the Second U.S. Colored Light Artillery. The unit, entrenched in a state still very much in Confederate hands, provided particular dangers for the Black soldiers as the Confederate government in 1862 issued orders that blacks caught in service to the Union Army were either to be sold into slavery or summarily executed on the spot.
On the morning of April 12, 1864, 1,500 Confederate soldiers under the command of General Nathan Bedford Forrest attacked Fort Pillow and due to their overwhelming numbers, quickly took capture of the stronghold. General Forrest refused to send the captured soldiers to either Libby Prison in Virginia or Andersonville Prison in Georgia, deeming such an unnecessary expense. Instead, Forrest ordered the shootings of the Union soldiers and had most of their bodies thrown into the Mississippi River—an act that one witness later exclaimed turned the river “blood red.”
A Congressional inquiry into the matter, led by abolitionist Senator Benjamin Franklin Wade of Ohio, concluded that the Confederate actions were not an act of war but one of murder. According to House Report Number 65, Jacob Thompson, one of the black civilians at the Fort who survived the massacre, recounted that the Confederates “just called them out like dogs and, and shot them down…I reckon they shot about fifty, white and black.” Added Ransom Anderson, a soldier with the Sixth Heavy Artillery, “all the men on our side were killed after the fight was over…they (Confederates) called them out and shot them down, then they put some in houses and shut them up and burned the houses.”
The Fort Pillow massacre garnered national headlines and strengthened the resolve of Radical Republicans who broke with Republican Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson and Congressional Democrats with respect to a swift and easy reconciliation with the South after the war.
As for Confederate General Forrest, he is remembered in history not just for the Fort Pillow Massacre, but also for having helped found the Ku Klux Klan, Greek for “Circle of Brothers,” near Pulaski, Tennessee in 1865, which was originally founded as a charitable organization to assist Confederate widows and children. Under the malevolent leadership of Forrest, the Klan soon became a terrorist organization bent on killing black men, women and children and their white sympathizers.
Black College Feature
Each day during Black History Month, I will feature one of America’s leading HBCUs.
Next up: North Carolina A&T State University
History: Like many public HBCUs in the south, North Carolina A&T’s roots stem from the Second Morrill Act that created land-grant institutions that focused on agricultural and industrial education. Due to Jim Crow segregation, Blacks were not allowed admission to North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now North Carolina State University), so in March of 1891, the General Assembly established the Agricultural and Mechanical College for the Colored Race as an extension of the private all-Black Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. In 1892, the College was relocated to its present location in Greensboro.
From 1901 to 1927, A&T restricted admission to Black men. Women once again gained admission beginning in 1928, and throughout the early 20th Century, the college and later university expanded to include courses in traditional liberal arts subjects.
North Carolina A&T was thrust into international prominence in 1960, when on February 1st of that year, four freshmen: Ezell Blair (Jibreel Khazan), Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, and David Richmond decided to “sit-in” at the downtown Woolworth’s cafeteria and demanded equal service at the lunch counter. This act of civil disobedience widened the direct action form of civil disobedience that soon would be replicated across the south through sit-ins, wade-ins (pools) and the Freedom Rides.
Academics: North Carolina A&T is perennially ranked among the top academic schools in America. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University #7 in its most recent publication.
The university offers 177 Undergraduate, 30 master, and 9 doctoral degrees through nine professional colleges, including its highly regarded Engineering School.
A&T holds the distinction as being the nation’s leading producer of African American engineers, in addition to being the leading producer of African-American women engineers at the bachelor’s level. The university is third largest producer of African-American engineers at the masters level behind Georgia Tech and Johns Hopkins University, and is the leading producer of African-American doctorates in engineering.
The School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences is the largest agricultural school among historically black universities, and the nation’s second largest producer of minority agricultural graduates. Additionally, the university is a leading producer of minority certified public accountants, veterinarians, and psychology undergraduates.
Motto: “Mens Et Manus”
Colors: Blue and Gold
Athletics: A&T was a member of the CIAA until 1970, when it became a member of the MEAC, a NCAA Division 1 HBCU conference. The Aggies football team has won seven Black College National Championships, including back-to-back championships in 2017 and 2018. Since 2019, A&T has been a member of the Big South Conference.
Famous Alumni/Figures: Ronald McNair, engineer/astronaut killed on the Space Shuttle Challenger; Civil Rights legend and former Democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson Sr., former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., former U.S. Rep. Edolphus Towns, Dr. James Hefner, former President of Tennessee State and Jackson State Universities, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, alleged mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks and Guantanamo Bay detainee; economist and former A&T President Melvin Johnson, North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Henry Frye, former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon, Janice Howroyd, Founder and CEO of ACT-1 Group, Academy Award winning actress Taraji Henson (later transferred to Howard), entertainer Terrance J, Brigadier General Clara Leach Adams-Ender, Former Chief of the United States Army Nurse Corps (1987-1991), first woman to receive her master’s degree in military arts and sciences from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College; NFL Hall of Famer Elvin Bethea, former NBA Coach Al Attles (Golden State Warriors), NFL star Tarik Cohen (Chicago Bears).