9 HBCU Alums Who've Made History
From a lauded politician with “firsts” surrounding her to a giant among men, white or black, these are the HBCU grads who made history.
January 29, 2021 at 7:53 pm
If 2020 taught us anything, it's to not sleep on the power of HBCUs. Historically Black Colleges and Universities are now being represented in a history-making vice-president, congressman and other major political players. Three figures who rose to prominence and power in the last year — Vice President Kamala Harris, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and Stacey Abrams — all hail from HBCUs.
To that end, here are some HBCU alums who have made history within and outside of the political realm.
1. A lauded politician with "firsts" surrounding her
The second most powerful person in the nation is a Howard University graduate.
Kamala Harris made history on Jan. 20 when she was sworn in as the first woman vice president. She is also the first Black and first Asian American to hold that office. Harris is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and likes to wear pearls and her Converse shoes on special occasions.
2. The quintessential womanist
Writer and womanist
Spelman College in Atlanta. Walker is well-known for her novels, poems and short stories which offer unrivaled insight into the lives of Black women. Her book The Color Purple won the National Book Award for hardcover fiction and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, making her the first Black woman to achieve these feats. She also coined the term "womanism."
3. A giant among men, white or black
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Morehouse College in Atlanta, where he received his Bachelor of Arts in sociology from the all-male historically Black college. King, a man of faith who was not afraid to get into good trouble, is often credited with helping to change the course of U.S. history with his activism.
King was an activist and the most visible spokesman for the Civil Rights Movement during the era of radical change or the turbulent '60s. The civil rights activist delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. King was also a notable member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
4. The first Black Supreme Court Justice
An influential leader of the Civil Rights Movement, Thurgood Marshall was a man on a mission. He graduated from Lincoln University near Oxford, Pennsylvania, followed by Howard University School of Law. Marshall's first-choice was the University of Maryland Law School, but he was denied admission because he was Black. Marshall went on to volunteer for the NAACP.
Later, he was brought on as Special Counsel in 1938 and soon became the organization's face, having nearly 30 Supreme Court victories under his belt. Marshall cemented his name in history when he became the first Black U.S. Supreme Court Justice, serving from 1967 until 1991.
5. A national treasure
Toni Morrison, who graduated from Howard University, was the first Black woman to do two things — become an editor at Random House and win the Nobel Prize for Literature, among other things. Having penned classics like The Bluest Eye and Beloved, she is one of the most celebrated authors in American history.
6. The richest Black woman in the world
Oprah Winfrey, the richest Black woman in the world, has humble beginnings. The mogul grew up in poverty in Mississippi. She went on to graduate from Tennessee State University in Nashville and then went on to work in television, which attributes to much of her multi-billion dollar net worth. Her syndicated talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, made history after becoming the highest-rated television program of its kind in history, and it ran for 25 years.
7. An NFL legend
Doug Williams is an HBCU legend, having played for the dominant Grambling State Tigers football program in the '70s, he went on to become the first Black quarterback picked in the NFL first draft. In Super Bowl XXII, he led the Washington Redskins against the Denver Broncos to victory, becoming the first Black quarterback to start and win a Super Bowl.
8. Pastor turned politician
Raphael Warnock, a Morehouse College alum who went from a pastor to a politician serving as a U.S. senator, grew up in public housing where his family was often short on money. Warnock and his eleven brothers and sisters might have been cash-strapped during those trying times, but they learned the meaning of hard work and moved forward on love, faith, and humor, despite it all. Those values paid off: Warnock was sworn into office by Vice President Harris, making history as the first Black U.S. senator to represent the state.
9. An academic in a league of her own
Ruth Simmons made history when she became the first Black person to lead Smith College, an elite all-women college. She also was the first Black person to lead an Ivy League institution, Brown University. Simmons is the president of Prairie View A&M University in Texas, which lured her of retirement to assume the covenant role, and has numerous awards under her belt, including the BET Honors Award for Education the Glamour Woman of the Year Award.
If you didn't know before, now you do: HBCU representation is everywhere.