The Ways in Which We Kill HBCU History

How industrial imperative, and administrative strongholds are diminishing HBCU progress.

In the 150th year of its operation, Lincoln University of Missouri — founded by veterans of the 62nd and 65th U.S. Colored Infantries — announced plans to temporarily deactivate the historically black institution’s history program. To be plain, it is tantamount to the slow death of the department and major, as well as to the eventual death of history generated by historically black college and universities.

To be fair, Lincoln is not alone. Press releases and presidents talk about student demands bottom lines, and the redirecting of resources to areas of high interest. It is a part of larger trend in education and in black education in particular, in which we value some disciplines more than others; support for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, for example, shows no sign of losing steam (pun intended).

As a historian and two-time HBCU alumna, I shudder when leaders of historically black colleges cannot see enough utility in the discipline of history to fight for its presence and preservation at their institutions. And I’m not just talking about presidents either. I’m talking about beloved professors, black folk, HBCU folk, occupying places and spaces in which they no longer perform at optimum levels.

I’m talking about the whitening of HBCU administrations and faculty in personnel who have no true commitment to those they serve —as well as the subsequent whitening of HBCU persona, class offerings, and curricula.

I’m talking about the difficulty, if not impossibility, of young, talented products of HBCUs finding a home at any HBCU, much less their alma maters.

Yes, I’m unfortunately talking about me, and about people like me who are doing their best to serve HBCUs from seats in the stands because folk won’t let us join the team, much less play ball.

If history, and the liberal arts are to survive and thrive at HBCUs, there must be room for young, dynamic talents who are capable of teaching, presenting, and publishing as well as blogging, live tweeting, and occasional turning-up to inspire a new generation of majors. They will do for others what a handful of visionary folk did for them.

Suspending a degree program may seem like a regrettable necessity for fiscal strength. Turning away potential professors and mentors, because of youth or politics, may seem like the best way to avoid disruption of cultural norms.

But these are moments which change history, alliances and value of our schools among black people across the nation. And the more of these moments we concede to money or ego, the less our students, and our future, will benefit.