John S. Wilson Jr., who has served as the president of Morehouse College and as a White House adviser on historically Black colleges, said that the institutions, known collectively as H.B.C.U.s, must seize this moment.
“Is this a sustainable moment that constitutes a new era?” said Dr. Wilson, whose forthcoming book, “Up From Uncertainty,” focuses on the future of historically Black colleges. “I think that answer could be ‘yes’ for a lot of H.B.C.U.s. Unfortunately, I think it’s also going to be ‘no’ to some institutions.”
Most Black colleges and universities were formed during the 19th century to educate people freed from slavery. Some students literally had to build their schools: At Tuskegee University in Alabama, they dug the clay and molded and fired the bricks used to construct their campus.
The schools became centers of scholarship and intellectualism, turning out most of the nation’s Black doctors, teachers and judges and boasting alumni such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the filmmaker Spike Lee, the writer Toni Morrison and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Democratic senator from Georgia.
The more established colleges have used the new money to build on their legacies. Spelman and Morehouse, both in Atlanta, and Hampton University in Hampton, Va., have started entrepreneurship programs, for instance. And Howard in particular has been able to lure talented faculty members who might otherwise have gone elsewhere.
Ms. Hannah-Jones, a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine who won a 2020 Pulitzer Prize for her work on the 1619 Project, rejected an offer from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after a controversy over whether she would receive tenure. She elected to join Howard, bringing with her $20 million in donations from the Knight Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation and an anonymous donor.