A lot of HBCU-goers (and let’s be honest, Black people who never even went to college), often question the motives behind a Black kid attending a predominately white institution (PWI).
“Well, why would you go to a school that wouldn’t have accepted you 60 years ago?”
Resistance. That’s why.
As you should know, Plessy vs. Ferguson made what was known as “separate but equal” laws constitutional. This made the Jim Crow south able to maintain segregation and be incredibly oppressive to Black people. But what you may not know is in 1899, just three years after authorizing Plessy vs. Ferguson, states were still allowed to tax both Black and White citizens while only maintaining public schooling for white children. What happened to no taxation without representation?
Now, this is where people’s interpretation of history gets a little fuzzy. It should be known that from 1896 to 1954 Black people did not just sit around and go to “colored people” schools and wait for Thurgood Marshall to swoop in and save the day. Over these 58 years, there were more than several attempts made for overall desegregation of schools.
In 1938, The Supreme Court ruled the practice of sending black students out of state for legal training when the state provides a law school for whites within its borders did not fulfill the state’s “separate but equal” obligation (Missouri ex rel. Gaines vs. Canada). This may seem like a victory but White people were determined not to allow Black people into their schools. Texas tried to create an African American law school to avoid admitting a Black student into the already established all-white program, but it was rejected by the Supreme Court. This case ruled that learning in law school “cannot be effective in isolation from the individuals and institutions with which the law interacts.”.
If this wasn’t so specific to law schools, this might have overturned Plessy. But then in 1952, the Supreme Court began hearing the arguments of Thurgood Marshall in the beginning efforts to overturn Plessy.
But even after Brown vs. Board of Education is authorized in 1954, schools were dragging their feet and were reluctant to integrate. Also, after living in forced segregation since 1896, Black people weren’t too thrilled to enter what was, to them, essentially enemy territory. But remember that in 1899 Black people were required to pay for the maintenance of schools that they weren’t even allowed to attend.
So think of the Ruby Bridges, a young girl from Louisiana who was the first to integrate her all-white elementary school, as someone who came to collect her reparations.
As much as people talk about “where’s reparations for Black people?” I think a lot of it comes from the perspective that it will be handed to us. Now, I’m not saying that it shouldn’t. Our rights and freedoms were unwilling stripped from us and they should be given back. But I am currently of the thinking that we’re going to have to go and physically take back what is owed to us, like an education. That in and of itself is resistance.
Many important civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., marched for integration in 1958 and 1959. If so many people marched for my rights, received death threats, were beaten and required military escorts just so that I could attend the University of Georgia and “call the Dawgs”, I should enjoy it. I should be thankful that I’m at PWI and not because White people accepted me but because Black people fought for my acceptance.