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From Civil Rights to Black Liberation: HBCUs

"As the civil rights struggle widened into a national liberation struggle, many activists began looking for political strategies that went beyond the integrationism of mainstream civil rights groups." Liberation School

Tell Them We Are Rising

A haven for Black intellectuals, artists and revolutionaries—and path of promise toward the American dream—Black colleges and universities have educated the architects of freedom movements and cultivated leaders in every field. They have been unapologetically Black for more than 150 years. For the first time ever, their story is told.

Directed by award-winning documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson, Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities examines the impact Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have had on American history, culture, and national identity.

Community Screening Guide

#HBCURising House Party Toolkit

Tell Them We Are Rising Brings the 1st Documentary on Our Nation’s HBCUs to PBS

Howard University: The Mecca

Morgan State University

University of Maryland, Eastern Shore

Jewish Professors and HBCUs

Beyoncé and the End of Respectability Politics

Beyonce performed at the 2018 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival.CreditLarry Busacca/Getty Images for Coachella

Documentary Clip

Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities is the first film to survey the 170 history of HBCUs. These short form videos allow for a deeper dive into the world of Black Colleges, including sports, Fraternal life and more.

The Facts

  • The first HBCU owned and operated by African Americans was Wilberforce University in Ohio, which was founded in 1856. It was named for William Wilberforce, an abolitionist.
  • 9% of all African American college students were enrolled at HBCUs in 2015.
  • More than 20% of African-American college graduates receive their degree from an HBCU.
  • 40% of African-American members of Congress, 50% of African-American lawyers, and 80% of African-American judges graduated from an HBCU.
  • The average graduation rate at a four-year HBCU hovered around 59% in 2015, higher than that national average for African American students at non-HBCUs.
  • HBCUs significantly contribute to the creation of African American science degree holders: agriculture (51.6%), biology (42.2%), computer science (35%), physical science (43%), and social science (23.2%).
  • Nine of the top ten colleges that graduate the majority of African American students who go on to earn Ph.D.s are HBCUs.
  • Graduates from Spelman and Bennett Colleges contribute to over half of the nation’s African American women who earn doctorates in all science fields, which is more than Ivy League “Seven Sisters” combined.
  • Half of the nation’s 105 HBCUs have a freshman class where three-quarters of the students are from low-income backgrounds, while just 1% of the non-HBCUs colleges serve as high a percentage of low-income students.
  • HBCUs are open to students of any race or ethnic background. An average of one in four HBCU students is a different race than the one the school was intended to serve, with Asians and Latino students the fastest growing demographic.


Coppin State University

Miner Teachers College Building

University of the District of Columbia

African American Fraternities and Sororities

Despite Their Struggles, HBCUs Add to US Economy

#HERSTORY Mary S. Peake

Mary S. Peake (1823-1862) secretly educated formerly enslaved African Americans of all ages, in her home in Hampton, Virginia. Born to a free woman of color in Norfolk, Virginia, Peake was sent to Alexandria (then part of Washington, D.C.) to be educated. At age sixteen, Peake returned home to secretly teach enslaved and free African Americans to read and write. This was a tremendous risk in the face of an 1831 law, passed as a response to the Nat Turner Rebellion, which forbade the education of any person of African descent. In 1847, Peake's family moved to Hampton where she continued to secretly teach. Her home was torched by Confederate forces during the Civil War, after the attack many African Americans sought refuge nearby at Fort Monroe. Peake started a school near the fortress, on the grounds of what would become Hampton Institute (later Hampton University). In just a matter of days, Peake’s attendance increased from six students to fifty. As a dedicated educator, Mary S. Peake created a school for adult learning in the evenings despite her failing health. Her school was one of the first of its kind, and a tremendous feat in the American South, during the Civil War. #HiddenHerstory


Morehouse Graduate: Dr. M.L. King

Bowie State University

This Is What Went Down When Albert Einstein Visited HBCU Lincoln University In 1946

The influence of Black Television and HBCUs - Culture