Out of curiosity as a student at Alabama A&M University, Adam Harris took the 6 1/2-mile drive across town to the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and he was bewildered by the glaring differences in the two campuses.
“They had new and newly renovated buildings,” Harris recalled. “The library had longer operating hours and a more extensive collection. Potholes had been filled — if they’d ever been there. And very few of the students I saw that day were Black, which was interesting for a regional school because Huntsville is roughly 30 percent Black. But just 10 percent of UAH’s campus was Black.”
Those differences sparked a question: Why?
Why were the facilities superior at the predominately white school founded in 1950 than the historically Black university founded 75 years earlier, in 1875?
That fundamental question Harris pondered for a decade became the impetus for his newly released book, “The State Must Provide: Why America’s Colleges Have Always Been Unequal—and How to Set Them Right.” A reporter for The Atlantic, Harris crafted a comprehensive work that examines the vast history of how racial discrimination against historically Black colleges and universities manifested itself in governmental underfunding and undermining that augmented many of the schools’ lifelong struggles. The years of federal neglect led Harris to conclude that HBCUs are owed reparations from the overall bias they have suffered.
He highlights laws like the Morrill Act of 1862, which was supposed to provide grants of land to states to finance the establishment of colleges specializing in “agriculture and the mechanical arts.” But state lawmakers misused or did not apply it to Black colleges.
“I couldn’t really make sense of some of those differences between Alabama A&M and UAH until I got into to a professional setting and started covering both federal higher education policy and historically Black colleges and poked a little bit more at how federal and state policy helped shape and create the unequal higher education system we recognize today. I realized that there was a longer story to be told there,” he said.
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SOURCE: NBC News, Curtis Bunn