Independent Lens


Tell Them We Are Rising

Though much of its history was eclipsed by the explosiveness of the 1960s, the essential role the nation’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) played in shaping black life, creating a black middle class and dismantling segregation cannot be overstated.

AIRED: February 19, 2018 | 1:22:46

male announcer: A community fighting

for the right to learn.

- Who gonna control our education?

We gonna let white folks control it, or black people?

- We wanted to have an in stitution where there

were people like us

all wanted to be more than the status quo.

announcer: A rich cultural legacy...

- Black colleges were redefining

what it meant to be black in America.

- It's an unapologetic black space.

announcer: A testimony to the power of education.

- These professors were on a mission to ensure

a vibrant black future.

announcer: Filmmakers Stanley Nelson and Marco Williams

offer rare insight into a critical,

but often overlooked American institution.

- These are places with this incredible freedom

to explore.

- If you come here,

you will find something you won't find anyplace else.

announcer: "Tell Them We Are Rising:

The Story of Black Colleges and Universities,"

now, only on Independent Lens.

[inspirational rock music] [woman vocalizing]

[soft music]

- "This is the dream grown young,

"the dream so bravely tended

"through a century of fears

"through the years of working,

"praying, striving, learning,

the dream become a beacon brightly burning."

[percussive music]

- Black colleges are spaces

where black people are affirmed.

- You could be yourself and develop yourself

in this rich soil.

- It's a space that is an unapologetic black space.

- These are places for this incredible freedom to explore.

- We wanted to better ourselves.

We wanted to have an institution

where there are people like us

all wanted to be more than the status quo.

- The question for African American's has always been

"What is education's purpose?

Who controls it,

and what is the relationship of education

to the broader aspirations of our people?"

- ♪ Well I need more power

- ♪ Power Lord ♪ I didn't need more power

- ♪ Power Lord ♪ I need a heavenly power

- ♪ Power Lord ♪ I need a heavenly power

- "On every gate around the stable,

"as on the plough handles,

"you could see where I had been trying to write,

and every chance that offered would be learning my ABCs."

Elijah Marrs.

"There was some niggers that wanted learning so bad

"they would study by the light of light wood torches,

"but one thing sure,

they better not let no white folks find out 'bout it."

William McWurther.

[whip cracks]

[chains jangling softly] [dramatic music]

- Slavery was more brutal than we can imagine.

[whip cracks]

The brutality went with the system.

- But there's another type of brutality

that took place during slavery,

and that was the brutality of ignorance

keeping intellectual thought, keeping learning,

keeping reading, knowledge from slaves.

- The more that a system denies you the chance

to read and to write,

the more that thing, reading and writing,

becomes valuable, becomes precious,

becomes a prize that you must have.

- "I had no schooling whatsoever

"while I was a slave.

"On several occasions I went as far as the schoolhouse door

"with one of my young mistresses.

"I had the feeling that getting in to that schoolhouse

would be the same as getting in to paradise."

Booker T. Washington.

- When they saw white people reading,

enslaved people call that "talking to books."

The idea that this piece of paper

that someone was looking at,

they could actually communicate with,

gave them a sense that this was a kind of knowledge

that opened up all kinds of opportunities.

- A slaveholder could do virtually anything

to his slave.

He could work his slave to death.

He could rape his slave. He could sell his slave.

"It's my property," the argument was,

"so I can do whatever I want to with my property

except one thing I can't do to my property.

I can't teach my property.

I can't teach my slave how to read or write."

An educated black population

could not be an enslaved black population.

- "The teaching of slaves

"to read and write has a tendency

to excite dissatisfaction in their mind."

- "Any person or persons who shall attempt to teach

any free person of color or slave to spell..."

- If a white man or woman, be fined no less than $100

or imprisoned. Shall be whipped

at the discretion of the court not exceeding 50 lashes.

- The revised code of the laws of Virginia.

- The state of Alabama. The laws of North Carolina.

- Acts and resolutions of the state of South Carolina.

- It didn't just happen in the South.

Some abolitionists who wanted to start a college

for black youth in New Haven

where Yale University's located.

Yale and the town officials said, "No. Absolutely not.

That's not happening here."

- This letter is from the mayor of New Haven, Connecticut,

and it says, "The location of a college of blacks here

"would be totally ruinous to the city

whose certain effect will be..."

- "Whose certain effect will be

"to lower the town's public morals,

"to drive from our city its female schools,

"its throngs of summer visitors.

"The founding of colleges for educating colored people

"is unwarrantable and dangerous interference

"with the internal concerns of the southern states

and ought to be discouraged."

- It's happening all over the country.

This discrimination, this repression,

this desire to make sure

that black people remain subordinate to whites

is something that's national.

It's not just Southern at all,

and I think that we sometimes forget that.

[dramatic music]

- "When I was still quite a child,

"I could hear the slaves in our quarters whispering

"that something unusual was about to take place,

"and it meant their freedom.

"There was not a single slave on our plantation

"that could read a line,

"but in some way we were kept informed

of the progress of the war."

Booker T. Washington.

- As soon as the war breaks out,

African Americans flee the plantation,

and once they get behind Union lines,

they call them "contrabands."

The first thing they want to do

is to get an education,

so in the evening when they finish their labor,

they go to these contraband schools

and as the women say, "Catch a lesson."

- ♪ One by one, two by two ♪

♪ Three by three, and a four by four ♪

♪ He goin' to bed with the readin' board ♪

♪ Read up, let me go ♪

♪ Read up y'all ♪ Freedom

- ♪ Read 'em y'all ♪ Freedom

- ♪ Read them pages

- ♪ Read 'em all, read and let me go ♪

♪ Read oh Lord

- ♪ Freedom ♪ Read 'em y'all

- ♪ Freedom ♪ Read oh Lord

all: ♪ Read 'em all, read and let me go ♪

♪ Read oh joy

- "I is anxious to learn how to read

so I can study and find out about many things."

William Adams.

- "It is wonderful how a people

"who have been so long crushed to the earth

"can have so greedy desire for knowledge

"and such a capability for attaining it.

"One old woman took her seat among the little ones.

"She was at least 60 years old.

Charlotte Forten.

- ♪ Read oh joy

- They feel that if they can get an education,

if they can get knowledge,

then other things will follow.

This is the beginning of education in the South.

[soft piano music]

- "Suddenly,

"as if at the sound of a trumpet,

"a whole race that had been slumbering for centuries

"in barbarism

"awoke and started off one morning

to school."

- In the immediate years after the war,

one of the first things that formally enslaved people did

was to open schools.

- Many of the people who were so-called teachers

were really not capable knowledge-wise

of being teachers.

They were simply teaching what they knew.

If they knew up to a sixth-grade level,

then that's what they would teach,

and so the first thing that had to be done after the war

was to train people to actually teach.

- After the Civil War was over,

the South is devastated in all kinds of ways.

The American Missionary Association

recognizes the damage,

and they see an opportunity to save the South,

and they come down and set up all these schools.

- "We can now lift them out of the pit.

"Essential parts of the work can only be done

"by Northern voluntary Christian organizations.

"They can bring physical relief.

"They can establish schools,

and they can bear the light of the Gospel."

- A large majority of them

were also dedicated to the idea

that the enslaved people needed to be


One person termed it "Yankee-fied,"

and they want to create the kind of culture

that is essentially a white culture,

and the AMA is the main independent organization

that sets up first the schools

and then the colleges that are going to evolve into

the historically black colleges.

- The African Methodist Episcopal Church,

the AME, start to say, "Wait a second.

"We want to have our own education system

"in terms that we understand.

We have ideas here,

black ideas,"

and so they start forming their own colleges.

- They wanted those schools

to be as free as possible

from paternalism,

from racism,

whether subtle or blatant.

- "No man or community of men

"can elevate another.

"Elevation must come from within.

"What the North and the South, however, can do

"is to seize their injustice

and allow the negro toeducate himself."

Bishop Benjamin Tanner, AME Church.

[dramatic music]

- The federal government also began creating

separate public black and white colleges in the South.

By the late 1800s,

there were over 86 black colleges.

Many of them were created by the AME Church, the AMA,

and the federal government.

- The South's reaction was one of incredible anxiety.

The southern planters elite

had an investment in a certain kind of workforce,

a workforce that they had been able to keep docile.

Education was gonna turn that upside down,

and the planter elites said, "That simply can't happen."

[fire crackling]

- In Tuskegee, Alabama,

nearly every black school that developed in the county

was destroyed

or the teachers were run off.

- One of the heartbreaking stories is

the lynching of a professor at Talladega

because he was teaching African American students.

He wrote this very powerful letter to his wife.

- "My dear wife,

"I die tonight.

"It has been determined by those that think I deserve it.

"God only knows, I have only sought to educate the negro.

"God of mercy, bless you and keep you.

"dear wife and children.

"Your William.

- Between 1866 and 1872,

approximately 20,000 people are killed,

blacks and whites, in the South,

all because of this perceived threat

that education will unlock something.

- Despite the violence and intimidation,

the shortage of teachers and resources,

the black colleges in the South survived...

And they began to produce their first graduates...

Many of whom were formally enslaved.

- General O. Howard,

for whom Howard University is named,

he was going around looking at

the plight of African Americans,

and he ran across students, and he asked,

"What shall I tell the people up north

about the plight of the former slaves?"

And the 13-year old Richard Robert Wright rose and said,

"Tell them we are rising."

[gentle guitar music]

- "Although I had no idea where it was

"or how many miles away,

"I remember only that I was on fire constantly

"with one ambition,

and that was to go to Hampton."

Booker T. Washington.

- Booker T. Washington hears about Hampton College,

and he works his way there

walking across the state of Virginia.

This is a dedication to a vision for education.

- The Hampton Institute was founded by

a retired Yankee general named Samuel Armstrong,

and his approach was to teach the trades,

carpentry, laundry work, farming,

to black youths.

- Samuel Chapman Armstrong was without a doubt someone

who believed in the inferiority of black people,

no question about that.

He didn't believe that black people

were capable of anything more

than an industrial arts education.

He just could not see black people advancing beyond that.

- Booker T. Washington,

he's really taken in by Armstrong,

becomes his right hand.

Armstrong says very clearly

that Washington is his prize student.

- Samuel Armstrong recommended Booker T. Washington

to head the Tuskegee Institute,

making him one of the few African Americans

to run a black college.

- When Washington goes to Tuskegee,

he starts the process

of building Tuskegee Institute from scratch.

[dramatic piano music]

- It was a campus dedicated to the idea

of industrial education.

Booker T. Washington was really

one of the first masters at marketing.

Using photography...

He's trying to communicate,

this is the type of education that at Tuskegee

we are giving to African Americans.

- It appeals to the white leaders in the American South

They don't see pictures of lawyers.

They don't see pictures of politicians.

They don't see pictures of professionals

who they think they're too good for hard work.

- I think it was just that Booker T. Washington felt that

black people were not, at present,

capable of doing anything more than that,

and as a consequence of taking that perspective,

black people suffered.

So he did a great deal of damage.

[patriotic music]

- Booker T. Washington gave one of the opening speeches

at the Atlanta Exposition,

and it was incredibly significant

to have an African American giving this speech.

- Before he starts, there are a lot of catcalls

on the part of whites and hissing and so on.

- "As we have proved our loyalty to you in the past

"in nursing your children,

"watching by the sick bed of your mothers and fathers,

"we shall stand by you ready

"to lay down our lives if need be

"in defense of yours.

"In all things that are purely social,

"we can be as separate as the fingers,

"yet one as the hand

in all things essential to mutual progress."

- What he was saying in that speech to white people,

"We will be your laborers.

"We will be the people who will take care of your children.

We will be the people who will do your menial work,"

and then he says to black people

that you have to start at the bottom

and work your way up,

and that's where we were meant to begin.

By the time he finishes, whites are crying.

White women are throwing out their handkerchiefs

and throwing out flowers and clapping.

They are so moved by this speech.

- He makes white people, North and South, happy.

He makes capitalists and plantation owners

in the South happy.

Everybody's happy 'cause we now have a black person

who's saying, "Let's compromise.

"We won't agitate for social equality,

"political participation,

civil rights. Forget all that stuff."

- What he seemed to be suggesting

was a kind of neo-slavery.

This is coming from the college president

who happens to be the most prominent African American

in the South.

[dramatic music]

- He's a rock star. He's a megastar.

This is somebody who is gonna be able

to dictate the terms of life for black education.

- He becomes the darling of the white philanthropists.

We're talking about the Rockefellers,

the Carnegies, the Peabodys,

these huge names in the country.

- Booker T. Washington appealed to Northern industrialists

for pragmatic reasons.

They were seeking after a labor force,

and he basically offered the proposition

of an educated black labor force,

but not too educated and not too pushy.

- "History is to note two Washingtons,

"one white, the other black,

both fathers of their people."

Andrew Carnegie.

- As his ideology becomes the only ideology,

there's not enough room it seems

for lots of different ideas about how to save the race.

That becomes a problem for other black leaders.

They want to have their voice at the table as well.

- "There is among educated and thoughtful colored men

"in all parts of the land

"a feeling of deep regret, sorrow, and apprehension

"at the wide currency and ascendancy

"which Mr. Washington's theories have gained.

"Mr. Washington's program practically accepts

the alleged inferiority of the negro race."

W. E. B. Du Bois.

- W. E. B. Du Bois is probably the most educated American,

black or white.

He has gone to Fisk University.

He has gone to Harvard

and then studied abroad in Germany.

Du Bois believes with education you gain freedom.

You gain independence.

- Du Bois' vision calls for expensive higher education,

and for thousands of African Americans

to go to college, become educated,

and to be fighters for freedom and equality.

Between Washington and Du Bois,

they were so fundamentally different in terms of vision,

so fundamentally different

in terms of the purpose of education,

that there was no way to reconcile the two.

- "We refuse to kiss the hand that smites us,

"but rather insist on striving by all civilized methods

"to gain every right and privilege

open to free American citizens."

W. E. B. Du Bois.

- Washington's ideology begins to fade

the further you get into the 20th century.

The notion of

just having a vocational education system

just doesn't make sense in a changing U.S. society.

- You see it in all of the educational institutions

for black folk,

a shift away from industrial education

to higher pursuits for black people.

And a new way of thinking

about how American society ought to function and look.

[soft piano music]

- Washington dies in 1915.

It is a moment

in American culture and society.

He is one of the last generations

of African Americans born into slavery.

You can read that funeral as a moment of bearing witness

to a change.

A change is coming.

[dramatic percussive music]

- African Americans loyally supported the United States

during the first World War,

and then when they returned to the United States,

they were determined to enjoy a greater degree of democracy.

[dramatic music]

But whites were not prepared for any changes here.

- African American returning veterans were often beaten

at the train stops when they arrived.

They were attacked

by their fellow veterans who were white.

They were attacked by civilians.

28 cities burned during the famous Red Summer of 1919.

Although we refer to them as "race riots,"

they were often small race wars.

The black veterans were shooting back.

- "Though far outnumbered,

"let us show us brave,

"and for their thousand blows,

"deal one deathblow.

"What though before us lies the open grave.

"Like men, we'll face the murderous cowardly pack

"pressed to the wall dying,

but fighting back."

[big band music]

- "The new negro has no fear" is a reflection

of this changed sensibility.

It's a militant new negro.

It's one that's going to stand up for his or her rights.

After all, these black soldiers

had fought for those rights

and died for those rights over in Europe,

and by God, they're going to get them.

- Black colleges were an interesting place.

Most of them during that period had white presidents,

and they were run in a very draconian kind of way

with moral codes and with lots of rules.

The white presidents were completely ill-equipped

as to what to do with these African Americans

who now wanted to shape their own destiny

and were very spirited and were defiant.

[bell tolling]

- McKenzie, the Fisk University president,

is not the kind of person that you would've expected

to come to Fisk.

He had worked out west on Shoshone Indian reservations,

and he had an extensive experience

with Native American/White relations.

The board of trustees at Fisk made no real distinction

between working with Native Americans

and working with African Americans.

His white secretary commented

that she didn't think that he understood black people

and wasn't even sure that he liked them.

- President McKenzie comes in with the notion

that he can make Fisk more conservative,

that he can take Fisk University students

and educate them in a different direction,

so he starts to make changes.

- He wouldn't let them have any social organizations.

- A bell told them when to get up...

- He took away the track team. - When to go to breakfast...

- He took away the baseball team.

- When to go to class...

- The men and women could not walk together.

- He would make no compromise. McKenzie said,

"I am as old-fashioned as the Ten Commandments,"

because he believed that blacks were

particularly sensuous beings

who needed more restraint.

What he was afraid of, I think, was widespread, uh...

He was afraid of sex basically.

W. E. B. Du Bois heard about all this

from his daughter, Yolanda,

who was a student at Fisk.

And then when Yolanda was graduating

in 1924,

Fisk invited Du Bois to speak.

- "I have come to criticize.

"In Fisk today, discipline is choking freedom.

"Ironclad rules, suspicion, are almost universal.

"The negro race needs colleges.

"We need them today as never before,

"but we do not need colleges so much

that we can sacrifice the ideals of the negro race."

W. E. B. Du Bois.

- He's saying to Fisk students, "Resist.

"Resist this repression.

Rise up."

all: [shouting] Du Bois!

- The Fisk students had engaged

in a tin pan riot.

[shouting continues]

Shouts of "Du Bois! Du Bois!" are heard.

[shouting continues]

They went about the campus

for a period of an hour or two.

They came back to their beds and were asleep by 10:00

when it was time for the lights to go off.

[glass shattering]

Students awoke to find

as many as 80 metro Nashville policemen

in full riot gear.

- They treat the students as criminals.

They handcuff the students.

They immediately place them into these paddy wagons,

and they take them off to jail.

- Some claim that they heard gunshots.

Maybe the first shots fired ever

on a historically black campus,

but it certainly wouldn't be the last.

- The students were so angry that they went on strike,

and for ten weeks they refused to attend class.

The trustees essentially decided

that it was not possible

to continue to have a university

if they had no students.

- "My dear Lambert,

"if you have not already learned,

"I've resigned as president of Fisk University

"and probably want to return to the rank of teacher,

"preferably in the field of sociology,

"including race relations.

Very truly yours, Fayette McKenzie."

- It's a victory because it makes national headlines,

and students at other black universities

across the country are emboldened.

They are inspired.

They participate in their own protests

in the weeks and in the months and years

that followed the Fisk fight.

It shows that the modern, new negro student, right,

it will no longer stand

for the Victorian atmosphere of their predecessors.

[jazz music]

- "Let black people understand

"that they are the lovers and the sons of warriors.

"Let the world be a black poem,

"and let all black people speak this poem

silently or loud."

- ♪ School days

♪ School days

♪ Dear old golden rule days

♪ Reading and writing and arithmetic ♪

♪ Taught to the tune of a hickory stick ♪

♪ You're my girl in Calico... ♪

- In high school, I was a good student.

That's why I guess the principal

was recommending me to Wilson College.

The disappointment comes when that person comes

from the college to interview me,

and then it was all downhill.

I have not forgotten her words.

"Your grades are wonderful, but we're a little concerned

"because we don't know with whom

"you would be paired

"because we cater to a lot of Southern gentlewomen,

"and they room in suites.

Sorry, kid."

So I didn't get to Wilson.

I applied to Bennett for a scholarship.

It was kind of special.

You know, you kind of stick your chest out.

I'm a Bennett gal. [laughs]

[indistinct chatter]

- During the 1930s and '40s,

black colleges are really the only place

that an African American student can go,

and this created this enormous incubator

for success and intellectual thought and creativity.

The best and brightest is going to black colleges.

- These professors were on a mission

not just, say, to teach classics

or French literature or political science.

They are there to ensure a vibrant black future.

They're going to encourage you

because they recognize your full human capability

and possibility.

- If a teacher saw you kind of slipping or faltering,

there was a... [soft clicking]

"What's going on? What's the matter?

Can I help?"

There was a watching over you

to see that you did the best that you could.

- Black colleges were educating future doctors

and future lawyers and future teachers

and nurses and judges,

and they were responsible for lifting African Americans

out of poverty,

and they started to create the black middle class

as we know it.

[twangy upbeat music]

- For a black child, every teacher that you knew

had gone to a black college.

Every lawyer that you knew had gone to a black college.

Every medical doctor

that treated you had gone to a black college.

- Black colleges were redefining what it meant

to be black in America.

You weren't doing something with your hands.

You were pursuing a career

where education and intellect mattered.

Black people were in charge.

Black people were in control.

Black people were writing the checks.

- I went out for the football team when I got there

because the girls liked you

and would really go for you, if you played football.

You get back at the halftime, and the coach tell you,

"Listen, we're not playing for no girls or nothing.

"we're playing football. We're playing to win.

Do you understand?"

Going to college was the best decision

that I ever made.

- There's a football game not just about the students.

It's really about the whole state,

the whole communities

are engulfed by those institutions.

- This is the era of fraternities and sororities.

You have a rich social and cultural life.

- We met in the registrar's office

at Fisk University.

I was in line to speak to the registrar.

There was that young, beautiful person

at the typewriter typing,

and it seemed as though she was looking over toward me.

Something causes her to bat her eye.

- I got up to help him,

and he said, "Did you wink at me?"

And I just kind of smiled, and--

- That was enough of an invitation

for me to ask her out.

- ♪ I'll buy you a diamond

♪ I'll buy you a diamond ring ♪

- 68 years ago, we married.

- It was a protective, insulated environment

where they could talk.

They could exchange ideas. They could be themselves,

and at least for that time period for those moments,

they didn't have to deal squarely

with segregation and inequality.

Once they left campus, they were right back into

the kind of segregation, the kind of humiliation,

and so it was a special place.

- I don't recall it crossing my mind.

It was some place where you knew

you weren't supposed to go, so you didn't go.

We didn't talk about it.

You know, you just kind of accepted things

the way they were.

[soft piano music]

- The plan to change racial segregation

could only have found its seed

and borne fruit

at a black college like Howard University.

They had a commitment around these issues

that even well-meaning liberal whites

and white institutions would not have developed.

- This is an idea that was cultivated and navigated

by black professors and deans

and black students.

This radical change,

I would think this affirmation of the American ideal,

comes out of a black college and black university.

["America the Beautiful" playing]

- With impressive open air ceremonies,

Howard University of Washington D.C.

graduates several hundred.

The crowd listened avidly to Johnson,

president of Howard.

- Mordecai Johnson was the first black president

of Howard University.

He was going to, if he could,

try to work a revolution of the Howard Law School,

and so Mordecai Johnson hires Charles Hamilton Houston,

who at the time is almost certainly

the most highly educated

African American lawyer in history,

graduate of Harvard Law School,

the first black member of the Harvard Law Review.

- Houston had a plan for this law school.

He's gonna make it a first-rate law school

that is all about breaking down a whole system

of racial discrimination and segregation.

That's what the Howard Law School mission

is going to be.

- Howard Law School at the time is an unaccredited law school.

It is almost entirely a night school,

and many of its students attend part-time

because they have to work.

It was referred to derisively

by some African American attorneys in Washington

as "a dummy's retreat."

In 1930, Houston closes the night school.

There is outcry among the African American lawyers

not just in Washington D.C., but nationwide.

They said this man is trying to Harvardize Howard.

Enrollment plummets.

All the white professors quit.

They wanted to work for their day jobs.

This allowed Houston to hire new faculty.

Now we've got an all-black faculty,

and they're some of the finest attorneys

who were working in Washington D.C.

- Dean Charles H. Houston,

he used to tell us in our first year

to look at the man on your right

and look at the man on your left,

and bear in mind that two of you

won't be here next year.

That sort of kept your feet to the fire.

- Thurgood Marshall was a graduate

of Lincoln University, a black college,

where he was not an exceptional student,

and by all accounts, this was from general

lack of interest in his studies.

- Thurgood Marshall was widely regarded

to be someone who had a big personality

and someone who could persuade people by charm.

These are some of the raw skills

that Charles Hamilton Houston took and refined

and turned into one of the most significant lawyers

of our generation.

- Shortly after Thurgood Marshall graduates

from Howard Law School,

he and Dean Houston take a road trip,

and they head into the recesses of the deep South.

[soft piano music]

They are charged by the NAACP with documenting

the conditions in which black children go to school

in the southern states.

Charles Hamilton Houston was a big techie.

Anything that came out,

the new technology that came out,

he wanted to have it,

and in Charles Hamilton Houston's car

they have a typewriter,

a camera...

and a film camera.

[camera whirring]

This was their first exposure

to the conditions

deep in Georgia and northern Florida

and Alabama.

They'd not seen that before.

Houston and Marshall were able to film white students

on the buses going to school.

And then they were able to contrast that

by showing black students walking to school.

There were not bathrooms-- there were not even outhouses

at some of these buildings.

Houston and Marshall

brought the film back from the deep South

to NAACP headquarters in New York City.

- The Constitution says

that the separation of the races is okay

as long as that separation is equal.

Houston has a plan. It's an incredibly bold plan.

He's going to attack segregation, ironically,

by supporting it.

- So the strategy that Houston devised

was that he was going to argue

that they needed to enforce separate but equal

by forcing the states

to actually make their facilities,

that were already separate, equal.

- In reality it was impossible

to actually maintain

equal schools that were separate.

It would be way too expensive.

The brilliant thing

that Charles Hamilton Houston set in motion was

this was not gonna be a one-game struggle.

This wasn't gonna be a one case.

The idea was to build a steady drumbeat

from one state to another

establishing the principle

that separate was never equal.

[classical music]

- Operating our educational system

is one of government's most important jobs

because education is one thing

Oklahomans have always believed in.

- George McLaurin was a 68-year old teacher

with a master's degree.

He sought a PhD in education

at the University of Oklahoma.

The University of Oklahoma admitted him,

but they forced him to sit outside the classroom.

- Oklahoma was like, "Okay.

"So this is equal, but it's separate.

"You said that we could do separate

as long as it was equal, so how about that?"

[laughs] "How about that?"

- Here we had a student

who was attending the same school,

hearing the same lecture

at the same time as the white students,

but was...

set aside,


because of his race.

- He's not able to interact with his fellow students.

He's not able to interact with his professors.

This is clearly a circumstance in which the separation itself,

even under conditions where they're getting

ostensibly the same education,

is not equal,

and that was in fact a breakthrough moment

to be able to say,

"Segregation in and of itself

is an inequality."

- Charles Hamilton Houston died in 1950,

but his campaign that started some 20 years earlier

at Howard Law School came to fruition in 1954.

- This is the group of lawyers

from all sections of the country

who are here in the Supreme Court

for the purpose of arguing the school segregation cases,

and we believe that

the proper place for the issue of segregation

is in a court.

[dramatic music]

- 100 years after laws existed

that prevented African Americans

from learning how to read,

that prevented white Americans

from teaching African Americans how to read,

100 years after that,

we have an integrated team of lawyers

led by an African American

arguing before the Supreme Court of the United States

that separate but equal is unconstitutional

in the field of public education.

- The game changer in the 20th century

was Brown versus Board of Education.

It took lawyers not at an elite school,

but at a law school

that was put together by spit and glue and hard work,

that that would be the space

that would create a legal revolution

that all Americans now benefit from.

This is an educational institution at its best,

not just creating knowledge for the sake of having it,

but creating knowledge

in order to do something concrete

with that knowledge.

That's what Howard Law School represents.

crowd: Two, four, six, eight, we will not...

- The decision opened the way toward eliminating

racial discrimination from American life,

but it did not bring into reality immediate integration.

More than laws are required

to change long established attitudes and institutions.

- I say that we will fight to the last ditch

to prevent unwanted integration against our free people.

- You've got to keep the whites and the blacks separate.

- We are determined in Georgia...

- As governor of the state of Alabama...

- We will maintain separate schools

for the white and the colored race.

- "What happens to a dream deferred?"

- We don't want the niggers going in this school.

This is a white school.

- "Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun..."

- I think they should be kept out any way possible.

- "Or fester like a sore and then run?"

- I think they should be separate.

Even the animals choose their own breed.

- "Maybe it just sags like a heavy load..."

- I am for segregation because it's biblical.

- "Or does it explode?"

[indistinct shouting]

- There was a famous man who once said,

"There's nothing on earth so powerful as an idea

whose time has come,"

and I think the centuries of discrimination and segregation

and ill-treatment and the lynchings,

I think the time had come

for the war to be waged

to end segregation.

We wanted freedom now,

not 25 years from now.

- It was "Damn it, we're gonna keep talking,

or are we gonna take action?

If not us, who?"

Nobody was doing anything.

There was no protests.

We decided we'd sit-in.

- We came in to the store

and sat-in at the lunch counter

which was not customary

or accepted

for African Americans at the time.

- "The New York Times"

had this story on four students

who had actually sat-in

at a Woolworth's store,

and that was absolutely earth-shaking.

Every one of us knew full well

that they were either

the bravest people in the world

or the craziest people in the world.

- We sat for pretty close to two hours.

The store manager said,

"You boys are gonna get in a lot of trouble,

"and I'm gonna call the cops if you don't get up and leave.

"We can't serve you here.

We won't serve you here."

So we sat until the store manager decided

to close the lunchroom for the rest of the day.

- So why did you fellows select

the five-and-dime variety store lunch counters?

Why didn't you just walk into restaurants

if you wanted to prove your point?

- Well, Woolworth's is open to the public.

They should have equal facilities,

not only restroom facilities,

but eating facilities also.

- A photographer from the "Associated Press,"

Jack Mobies,

greeted us at the door.

He says, "You coming back?"

Well, we said, "Yes, we're gonna be back tomorrow,

"and we're gonna keep coming back

until you guys serve us."

all: ♪ Black and white together... ♪

- The Bennett girls

became aware of what we were doing at A&T,

and they couldn't be held on the sidelines,

and so they joined it.

- We deserve our rights,

and we are going to get them one way or the other.

- This was an opportunity to make a difference.

[singing continues]

We felt it was incumbent upon us

because we were young people.

We were students, and we had a responsibility,

and we were gonna be the future leaders,

so now was a good time to begin to demonstrate

what good leaders we could become.

- We start out the first day with four,

the second day to 16,

the third day, 24,

then 64,

and then the Saturday occurred.

We had pretty close to a thousand students

demonstrating peacefully,

and it kept growing

until this thing just

had a life of its own.

- It was being replicated throughout the South

and largely among black college students.

A revolution had actually begun.

["Super Bad" by James Brown]

- Watch me!

Watch me!

I got it. Hey!

- The target for the students were the lunch counters

at the city's two largest department stores

and four variety stores,

and for the first time

the community was confronted with negroes

in places where they had never been.

- ♪ And I'm super bad

♪ And I'm super bad A

- If you weren't out there demonstrating,

then something had to be wrong with your school.

- [grunts] ♪Come on

- You sat and read your books

and caught up with your homework

because you were students.

It was just a matter of, you know,

reading this chapter or whatever you had to do

before you got back on the picket line.

[indistinct shouting]

- During the weeks after the sit-ins began,

opposition in the white communities

of the South solidified,

and the first signs of violence appeared.

[indistinct shouting]

[dramatic music]

- We were called "niggers."

We were spat on.

People came by and threw cigarettes at you.

It was very difficult not to fight back.

I spent a lot of time on that picket line crying

because I could not retaliate.

all: ♪ Freedom, freedom ♪

♪ Everybody wants freedom

♪ Everybody wants freedom

- [shouts] ♪ Everybody wants freedom

all: ♪ Freedom, freedom, everybody wants... ♪

- It's unusual for someone to be singing

while they're getting arrested

'cause that arrest is supposed to punish you.

It's supposed to be humiliating.

But when you're singing and dancing

on your way to jail

being put in the paddy wagon,

you retain the power.

- ♪ Freedom

♪ Freedom, freedom

- Even when we had situations

that we didn't know what to do,

we had a song.

♪ I'm gonna do what the spirit says do ♪

♪ I'm gonna do what the spirit says do ♪

♪ And what the spirit says do

♪ I'm gonna do oh Lord

♪ I'm gonna do what the spirit says do ♪

[spiritual piano music]

- Rich's department store was the big kahuna.

They had stores all over the South.

Dick Rich, who was the president

of Rich's at the time, he told me that

if I brought my black ass back in to his store again,

he was gonna put me in jail,

and I told him that "I'm coming back, Mr. Rich,

"and I'm bringing thousands with me,

and get your jails ready 'cause we're gonna be there."

- We synchronized watches and said at 11:15,

everyone was to enter wherever they were assigned to.

It meant that they had to deal with all of us

at the same time.

- We were able to cost Rich's department store

in 1960 over the Christmas holidays

$10 million in losses.

All of a sudden they wanted to talk,

and within six weeks, they had signed an agreement

to desegregate all that stuff downtown.

- ♪ I'm gonna do what the spirit says do ♪

♪ Well I'm gonna do what the spirit says do ♪

♪ And what the spirit says do I'm gonna do... ♪

- When I was finally served at that counter,

I thought it was by far one of the lousiest meals I ever had,

and I asked myself the question,

"Is this what I put my life on the line for?"

[laughing] But it--

remember, it wasn't about the food anyhow.

It was about being treated as a fellow human being.

["Let My People Go" by Darondo]

- ♪ Said you better let my

♪ Let my people go

- We want black power. We want black power.

- ♪ Said you better let my

♪ Let my people go

- Black college campus in the 1960s

is getting more and more complex.

They've been already trying to change the world outside,

changing the society that was about separation of the races.

We get to the late '60s and early '70s,

that energy for change starts to turn inward.

all: ♪ Beep, beep, bang, bang

♪ Ungawa black power

♪ Beep, beep, bang, bang

♪ Ungawa black power

♪ Beep, beep, bang, bang... When a black person

looks at himself in the context of America,

that's when he has to decide "Who am I?"

And when he finds out who he is,

then he knows what he has to do.

- A lot of the conflict that's starting to happen

is between the students and the administrators,

students and the boards of trustees.

They're wanting to see themselves

far more than they have in the past,

and so that makes for some pretty hot times

on black college campuses.

- The present administration

are the children of last generation.

We're the men and the women of this generation

and the generations to come.

Either they'll come with us or be left behind.

Most likely they'll be left behind.

- About 1,000 students here at Howard University

have sat-in and held control of this administration building.

There are no classes.

The entire educational system is shut down.

- Many of us will stay

in the administration building

and be arrested.

- There will be boycotts until there is progress,

and we are prepared to boycott until infinity.

- It appears to me

that the attitudes on the part of the students

suggest that an explosion

among them is imminent.

- And the question here before us is, like,

who gonna control our education,

whether we gonna let white folks control it

or black people,

and the students at Voorhees College have taken a position

that black people gonna control our education.

- You also start to see the police

being more vile in their approach

to interacting with students.

- President Nixon has urged college officials

to be firm in dealing with campus disorder,

and that's what Dr. Potts was doing

when he agreed to the use of the national guard.

- Black colleges were particularly vulnerable

to police invasion

because white politicians

were quick to call in the police

and quick to look the other way when police used deadly force.

- When the bullets were hitting the walls,

I was on the floor,

and there were a lot of people on top of me,

and I don't know what was happening.

All I knew, I could just see the pounding

against the windows and glass popping everywhere.

[tense music]

- This kind of atmosphere of policing and of crackdown

made students very, very vulnerable.

["Theme from 'The Shaft'" by Isaac Hayes]

- I entered Southern University in 1970.

Earth, Wind, and Fire, Barry White, "Shaft,"

that was the kind of music we listened to.

- Platform shoes in style, too,

platform shoes and bellbottoms.

I hurt my feet, and I had a head full of hair.

- We was wearing afros.

We wore them old mini dresses.

We all had the little small figures for it.

It looks good on us.

My sister and my brother

had already entered Southern University,

so I knew I should be next.

We wanted to go to Southern,

the black college.

- When I got on Southern's campus,

there was, like, 10,000 students on campus,

and there were people from Seattle, New York,

Chicago, Houston, Texas, all these places.

It was amazing.

- The mix of people was one of the elements

that defined Southern.

It was an intellectual and scholarly oasis

that I really, really wanted to be a part of,

and all of it was there.

- Southern University in Louisiana

was the largest public black college

in the United States.

There was a black president and black administrators,

but it was under the control

of the white elected officials in Louisiana

who only spent half as much per pupil

as they did on the predominantly white LSU.

- My third or fourth week,

you could see that something else was happening on campus.

You were getting another vibe that there were some students

that weren't happy with what was going on.

- They want to teach you everything the white man way.

We trying to break away from this thing.

See, too long we've been listening to the white people

and their ways.

We're developing our own ideas

and want adequate facilities

to be able to put them in to action.

- We didn't feel that we had enough professors.

- Adequate classroom space. - Better funding.

- More input into the curriculum.

- And it started to build, and it started to build.

- And so we decided that the best thing to do

was a very direct thing and take these matters

directly to President Netterville.

Met with him, and we thought that his response

was not a positive one,

and so we decided to boycott classes.

- We will not go back to class until all our demands are met.

Power comes from unity.

- The students at Southern University's campuses

in Baton Rouge and New Orleans

began a series of marches and demonstrations

demanding the resignation of the school's president

and control over the administration.

- For an entire month we boycotted classes,

and that had never been done.

- Southern had a major football tradition.

We knew that we could have some impact

if we drew the attention

of people who attended these games.

- There were demonstrators who went on to the football field

and stopped their football game.

That's when I was impressed.

I said, "This is really big.

Maybe the administration gonna listen to them

and something great is gonna happen here."

- When they take the attitude that they will boycott classes

unless they get their way completely and instantly

then it just becomes necessary to let it be known

that that just cannot happen.

- The call was go and stand on campus,

stand around all day in uniform

in a show of force on the parking lots

and ride through the campus.

[tense music]

We start trailing the students around

to see where they were going

or where they were holding meetings off campus.

Everybody was on standby in a high-alert situation.

Nobody knew what was gonna happen.

- Well, of course I was not gonna sit by

and allow them or anybody to destroy public property.

It didn't belong to the students.

It belonged to the people of the state,

and while I sympathize with their complaints

and was willing to address them,

I was not gonna allow them

to destroy the university

or its buildings.

- The student movement was indeed a nonviolent movement.

There was not one incident

during that entire period of time

that represented any violence,

certainly any violence on the part of students.

- At about somewhere between 2:00 and 3:00 in the morning,

I received a knock on my door

which turned out to be the police,

and they handed me a warrant for my arrest.

I was scared.

I had never been to jail before.

I didn't know what to expect.

- On the morning of November 16,

there were no police around.

It was a very serene day on campus.

We did what we were doing every day,

and that is that we were rallying students

to leave the class,

just that this day we informed them

that these four students had been arrested

and that we were gonna go over

to President Netterville's office

and ask him to go downtown and get the students out of jail.

He let us in his office, and he said,

yes, he would indeed do that, and he said,

"You can stay here until I return,"

so we took him at his word. He left the building.

- The call that the sheriff's office received,

and who made the call from Southern University?

I don't know, but it informed us

that Dr. Netterville was being held hostage,

that he was in the administration building

that had been taken over by the students,

and we was ordered to free the hostage.

- So we heard this noise outside

and looked out the window.

- About 300 sheriff's office deputies

and state police troopers assembled on campus

to carry out Governor Edward's demand

that order be maintained.

- We immediately knew

that Netterville had betrayed us.

- M16s, shotguns,

sidearms, you name it, they had it.

- To our amazement,

there was a tank with them.

- Big Bertha they called her.

It was a big blue armored personnel carrier

built out of steel. It was there

in the front of the administration building parked.

- This thing's frightening.

We about to go to war?

- We had every deputy that could have a uniform on.

Some of them were new. Some of them was reserve.

A lot of them wasn't trained.

Nobody knew what was gonna happen.

And a state police-- I was looking right at him,

leaned down

and rolled a tear gas canister toward the crowd.

It was Bobby Crow.

It was a state police, state trooper.

That was who rolled it. I was looking right at him.

One of the students leaned down and picked it up,

hurled it back toward the deputies.

[clattering] That's when hell broke loose.

[gunshots, people screaming]

- Pandemonium, chaos.

It was something that was quite surreal.

- Big Bertha had some portholes

on the side of it,

and shots were coming out of there rapidly.


You could see it rocking

from the vibration from shots being fired.

- There were two people left on the ground.

I thought that they had been knocked down

by the rush of students trying to get away...

[somber music]

But then I remember this girl turned around

and started screaming.

- Coming out of the administration building,

what I noticed,

and what I'm sure a lot of other people noticed,

was a pool of blood

with what looked like brain matter floating around in it.

- We came out.

By that time the bodies was gone,

but we saw the markers and the blood everywhere,

and we were weeping and crying

and going back to the dorm.

They say, "You know that was your brother, huh?"

I said, "What?"

I went numb.

- There has been trouble at Southern University

between black students and authorities

for a couple of weeks, and today it ended in death.

- And on the TV, sure enough,

they called his name.

- 20-year old Denver Smith.

- Denver Smith and Leonard Brown.

- He was never a part of the movement at all.

If I hadn't been involved,

my brother never would've been there.

- The accident would not have happened at all

if they had not taken upon themselves

to occupy the president's office.

That was the triggering mechanism.

Had they just gone about peacefully demonstrating

and agitating and doing what they wanted to do

and had a right to do, it never would've happened.

[soft dramatic music]

- It came as a surprise to me.

After we found out later that afternoon that

Dr. Netterville was not on campus,

during the whole period of time we were there

at the administration building with the students,

that he was not on campus at all.

- I relive that moment

because I was one of the leaders

who led the students to Netterville's office

who believed that he would go down

and get these students out of jail,

and they trusted me.

Though I didn't pull the trigger,

as a leader, I may have been responsible.

- They were exercising their constitutional rights,

and they get killed for it.

They died for it.

Nobody sent their child to school to die.

Just shouldn't have happened.

It shouldn't have happened.

["Lift Every Voice and Sing"]

- ♪ Lift every voice and sing ♪

♪ Till Earth and Heaven ring

♪ Ring with the harmonies

♪ Of liberty

♪ Let our rejoicing rise

♪ High as the listening skies ♪

♪ Let it resound

♪ Loud as the rolling

♪ Seas

[marching band playing]

- My daughter's going to Spelman.


all: Yay!

- We're excited to keep the bloodline going

'cause our family bleeds orange and green.

- And this is for you. - Thank you.

[indistinct chatter]

- Okay. - This room is really small.

Don't know how all your stuff gonna get in here.

- At my high school, I was a token black girl.

That was something very hard for me.

You're either the ratchet, black ghetto person,

or you're the exception.

You're the high-achieving excellent--

That's what you are, and I'm tired of those boxes.

I don't want to be one thing or the other.

I want to be me.

I want to have the opportunity to discover myself.

The sandals go in boxes together.

I do believe that going to an HBCU

is going to be a safe space.

It's somewhere where I can be free to be completely myself.

I can be black. I can have curly hair.

I can be smart.

I can be whatever I want to be.


[all singing]

When I walk on campus, the excitement is unreal.

I love the show teams that go around

chanting for their dorm.

I love the step teams that they have....

[upbeat music]

And they all look like you.

Oh, they all look like you.

[laughs] It's so good.

- And this moment

marks the beginning

of your journey.

This is the moment where you part company

with your parents, your friends, your loved ones.

You say goodbye.

- There's something very different

about coming into an environment

where you know that everyone around you

has the same chance of being successful as you are

without negative implications associated with race.

What the black college experience provides them

is a place to be finally at some point in the majority.

They look around and see people

who share common experiences.

That is such a unique and empowering experience.

- My graduating class, there weren't many black students.

When I told my classmates that I was going to attend an HBCU,

none of them even knew what an HBCU was.

Everyone was like, "Why? Why do you want to go to FAMU?

Why don't you want to go to, like, USF

or, like, somewhere else?"

I'd never even had, like, a black teacher

ever from K through 12.

I remember, like, always talking to my mom about it.

"When am I gonna have a black teacher?

Like, I want a black teacher."

- On page 274, we talked about hurdles

that you have to get through.

- I wanted to learn from someone who looks like me

because I thought maybe the learning experience

would be a little bit different.

[indistinct chatter and laughter]

[soft dramatic music]

My freshman year was when I had

the African American history class,

and that changed the world for me.

Just knowing what my ancestors went through

to learn how to read, to get an education,

to be given the right to sit in a classroom

that have good books,

and they worked so hard for that.

It makes me want to be better,

and every day I just try to be great

just because of that.

It is our duty to fight for our freedom.

all: It is our duty to fight for our freedom.

- I just wanted to be more involved

in the movement

that was happening now.

We must love and protect each other.

all: We must love and protect each other.

- We have nothing to lose but our chains.

all: Throwing up our hands for peace.

- Movements are easily birthed on HBC's campuses.

We're all going through the same experience.

I just feel like I found myself

through being a student at FAMU.

I hope that the future of HBCUs

is a positive one and one that'll bring

a lot of experiences to more people,

but I'm fearful that it's not going to be that way.

[somber music]

[marching band playing, crowds cheering]

- Come on, Brown fans, sing it one more time

for Morris Brown.

[all singing indistinctly]

- The future for black colleges

is actually contested at this point.

[soft music]

Many of them have not been successful,

particularly over the last 20 years.

- This is a shell.

It's a shell of a wonderful campus

that used to be 34 acres.

Fountain Hall at one time housed the offices

of Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois.

In 2003, Morris Brown College lost its accreditation.

We had 2,500 students at that time

to what you see now

where we have less than 50 students.

- Today there are over 100 black colleges.

Some are flourishing.

Some, like Morris Brown College established in 1881,

have all but closed.

- Brown v. Topeka opened white colleges,

opened the field of choice

for black students

and black faculty,

often with the consequence that

black colleges lost enrollment,

and they've lost some of their most talented faculty.

- There's a lot more competition.

What I think successful colleges will do

will say, "If you come here,

you will find something you won't find any place else,"

so that's the kind of uniqueness

that you want to be able

to communicate to your community.

[marching band playing]

all: What's my favorite word?

- I wanted to go home because I felt like it was too much.

I don't wanna be here. It's too hard,

and Dad gives me this really long talk.

He said, "Calvin, we want you to go to FAM

because that is where you're going

to get the best experience

as a musician and as a black man."

Two. One, two, ready, and...

[marching band playing]

The university has pushed me very, very hard

to become a self-standing,

strong, centered individual.

I've grown as a musician and as a leader.

Three things that I really want from this university

are support, an education, and love,

and since I've been here, I've gotten just that.


I know I'm really gonna miss this environment

'cause I know I couldn't get it anywhere else.

This is my last home game. It's my last year at FAM.

Getting ready to graduate,

and the world's about to get that much bigger.

- Young people are the engine of change.

They are the engine of possibility.

They have a vision

and a faith in their own potential.

- That spirit of being at an HBCU

is very unique, very different.

It's like you have a match, and you want to start a fire,

but you have no fuel whatsoever.

All you have is that one match.

This HBCU experience has shown me

and taught me that anything is possible

as long as you have that one spark.

["Alright" by Kendrick Lamar] [men vocalizing]

- ♪ Alls my life I has to fight ♪

♪ Alls my life I

♪ Hard times like yah

♪ Bad trips like yah

♪ Nazareth

Alls my life but if God's got us ♪

♪ Then we gon' be all right [echoing]

♪ We gon' be all right

♪ We gon' be all right

♪ We gon' be all right

♪ Do you hear me? Do you feel me? ♪

♪ We gon' be all right

♪ We gon' be all right ♪

♪ Huh, we gonna be all right

- I got my degree, baby! ♪ We gon' be all right

♪ Do you hear me? Do you feel me? ♪

♪ We gon' be all right [grunts]

♪ Now tell my mama I love her but this is what I like ♪

♪ Lord knows I can see the evil ♪

♪ I can tell her I know it's illegal ♪

♪ I don't think about it I deposit every other zero ♪

♪ Thinking of my partner, put the candy ♪

♪ Paint it on the Regal, diggin' in my pocket ♪

♪ Ain't a profit big enough to feed you ♪

♪ Every day my logic get another dollar ♪

♪ Just to keep you in the presence of your chico... ♪

- We rise!

Class of 2016...

You rise!

- ♪ We gon' be all right

♪ Do you hear me? Do you feel me? ♪

♪ We gon' be all right [grunts]

♪ Tell the world I know it's too late ♪

♪ Boys and girls I think I gone cray ♪

♪ Drown inside my vices all day ♪

♪ Won't you please believe when I say ♪

- ♪ Well, I need more power

- ♪ Power Lord ♪ I just need more power

- ♪ Power Lord ♪ I need heavenly power

- ♪ Power Lord ♪ I need heavenly power

- ♪ Power Lord ♪ I need some power

♪ That can save me ♪ Power Lord

♪ Need power that can save me ♪

- ♪ Power Lord

- ♪ I need heavenly power

- ♪ Power Lord

- ♪ I need some power that can save me ♪

- ♪ Power Lord

- ♪ I need a power that can save me ♪

- ♪ Power Lord

- ♪ We done talkin' 'bout power ♪

- ♪ Power Lord

- ♪ We done talkin' 'bout the power ♪

[inspirational rock music]


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