A Half-Century Ago, Black College Students Sparked the Civil Rights Movement

As we are about to begin the celebration of Black History Month, it is important to remember that 50 years ago this week four African-American students from North Carolina A&T State University undertook a courageous act of civil disobedience that lit a spark of civil rights protests throughout the South. At 4 p.m. on February 1, 1960, Ezell Blair Jr., Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, and David Richmond walked into the Woolworth’s store in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina. The students took seats at the store’s lunch counter and ordered coffee. When they were denied service the four refused to leave. The next day they came back with 20 other students. Within five days 300 students joined the protest and the manager closed the store. The lunch counter sit-in movement spread throughout the South. In July, Woolworth’s desegregated its lunch counters.

Over the ensuing years following the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56, the battle lines of the civil rights movement were waged for the most part in the halls of Congress and in the courts. The lunch counter sit-ins initiated an intense five-year period of protest and civil disobedience culminating in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.


The Leading Producers of African-American Doctorates

Over the most recent five year period, Howard University awarded 334 doctorates to African Americans. This is almost double the number awarded by Nova Southeastern University, which ranked second in the rankings of the most doctorates conferred on African Americans. The University of Michigan ranked third with 153 doctoral awards to African Americans. Fifteen other universities awarded at least 100 doctorates to African Americans in the 2004 to 2008 period.


Sandra Day O’Connor Backs Away From Deadline on Racial Preferences in Higher Education

In an essay published in the new book The Next 25 Years: Affirmative Action in Higher Education in the United States and South Africa, former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor states that her 2003 opinion in the Grutter v. Bollinger case should not be interpreted as imposing a deadline on when race-sensitive admissions should be abolished.

In the ruling O’Connor wrote, “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary.” Many legal observers concluded that O’Connor was saying that if the Court revisited the issue of affirmative action a quarter-century down the road, in all likelihood it may decide that racial preferences were no longer justified.

But in a new essay O’Connor writes, “When the time comes to reassess the constitutionality of considering race in higher education admissions, we will need social scientists to clearly demonstrate the educational benefits of diverse student bodies, and to better understand the links between role models in one generation and aspirations and achievements of succeeding generations.”

Of course, O’Connor’s essay may have little or no impact on any future affirmative action rulings by the Supreme Court. As the old saying goes, “The Constitution is what the justices say it is.” The makeup of the Court at the time the next affirmative action case comes before it will be the deciding factor.

Since the 2003 Grutter decision, O’Connor was replaced by Samuel Alito and David Souter was replaced by Sonia Sotomayor. It is widely believed that if an affirmative action case came before the Court there would be five votes that would strike down racial preferences in higher education as unconstitutional.


Morris College Wins the Lottery

In the summer of 2009, the Rev. Solomon Jackson Jr., a retired employee of the state of South Carolina, won the Powerball lottery. Jackson had the option of an annuity that would have paid him nearly $260 million over several decades or a one-time payment of $129 million. He chose the lump-sum payment.

Now, Jackson has donated $10 million of his lottery winnings to Morris College, the historically black educational institution in Sumter, South Carolina. Jackson attended Morris College in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The $10 million donation is the largest in the college’s history. The money will be used to build a new dormitory and repair the roof on another residence hall. Money will be set aside for scholarships and the remainder placed in the school’s endowment fund.

In addition to the gift to Morris College, Jackson has established the Solomon Jackson Jr. Scholarship Foundation to help students pay for college.


Michigan Has the Nation’s Widest Racial Gap in Academic Achievement Among Black Males

Larry L. Rowley, an assistant professor of higher education and Afro-American and African studies at the University of Michigan, has sounded the alarm on the status of black males at all levels of education. His research shows that only 33 percent of black males in the state of Michigan graduate from high school. This is the lowest rate in the nation. Furthermore, he notes that the white male graduation rate in the state is 74 percent. This produced the largest racial gap in high school graduation rates in the nation.

Professor Rowley states that black males “are underperforming at alarming rates across the K-12 educational pipeline as well as in their college attendance and completion rates. This is a national crisis.”

Rowley works with the university’s Black Male Project which seeks to identify the factors that result in lower academic achievement by black males, to boost black male self-esteem, and to provide mentors and role models for young black males.


72.3%  Percentage of white doctoral degree recipients in 2008 who had a commitment for employment following the completion of their degree program.

64.2%  Percentage of African-American doctoral degree recipients in 2008 who had a commitment for employment following the completion of their degree program.

source: National Science Foundation


In Memoriam

Annetta L. Gomez-Jefferson (1927-2009)

Annetta Gomez-Jefferson, a longtime professor of theater at the College of Wooster in Ohio, has died from cancer at the age of 82.

Gomez-Jefferson was a native of Detroit where her father was a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. She earned a bachelor’s degree at Paul Quinn College in Texas and a master’s degree in English from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. She served on the faculty of the College of Wooster from 1974 to 1995 and founded the college’s theater department and its Stage Right Repertory Company.

C. Calvin Smith (1943-2009)

C. Calvin Smith, Presidential Distinguished Professor of Heritage Studies at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, has died at the age of 66. Smith was the first tenured black faculty member at Arkansas State University.

A native of Marianna, Arkansas, Smith was the son of a Baptist preacher. A graduate of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, he held a master’s degree from Arkansas State and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Arkansas. He was the author of War and Wartime Changes: The Transformation of Arkansas, 1940-1945 and Educating the Masses: The Unfolding History of Black Public School Administrators, 1900-2000.


Honors and Awards

• Richard Pierce, John Cardinal O’Hara Associate Professor of History and chair of Africana Studies at the University of Notre Dame, was the recipient of the Sheedy Excellence in Teaching Award from the university’s College of Arts and Letters.

• Harold Holmes, dean of student services at Wake Forest University, received the Leonard Goldberg Citation from the Senior Student Affairs Officers of the Associated Colleges of the South for his “exemplified accomplishment to the field of student personnel.”

• Nicole Williams, an associate professor of human services at Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland, is the recipient of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Zeitgeist Award from the college’s Black Student Union.


Grants and Gifts

The nursing school at Emory University in Atlanta received an $8.2 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for a program to improve maternal and newborn survival rates in rural Ethiopian villages.

The Northwestern University Media Management Center received a $275,000 grant from the McCormick Foundation to fund a fellowship program with the aim of increasing the number of minority executives in the news media.

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center received a $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study racial disparities in health in Memphis and Shelby County, Tennessee. The research study will be under the direction of Shelley White-Means, professor of health economics at the University of Tennessee.

Black Colleges With the Highest Graduation Rates for African Americans

The graduation rate of African-American students at the nation’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) tends to be much lower than the graduation rate for black students at the nation’s highest-ranked institutions. However, the graduation rate at a significant number of HBCUs is well above the nationwide average for black student graduations, which currently stands at an extremely low rate of 45 percent. By a large margin, the highest black student graduation rate at a historically black college belongs to Spelman College, the academically selective, all-women’s school in the city of Atlanta. In fact, Spelman’s black student graduation rate of 79 percent is equal to or higher than the black student graduation rate at several of the nation’s high-ranking predominantly white colleges and universities including Colby, Berkeley, UCLA, Michigan, Bowdoin, and Chapel Hill.

Following Spelman in the rankings, the next-highest black student graduation rate among the HBCUs was at Howard University. At Howard, 64 percent of the entering black students go on to graduate within six years. Morehouse College in Atlanta ranked third with a black student graduation rate of 60 percent. Claflin University in South Carolina, Hampton University in Virginia, and Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina, sadly, are the only other HBCUs that graduate at least half of their black students within six years.


“The mission of every urban university is to help a city see, feel, and articulate its soul. If we don’t do that, we’re nothing more than an ivory tower that will dry rot.”

Ronald L. Carter, president of historically black Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the Charlotte Observer, 1-2-2010


Blacks Lagging in Law School Admissions

Conrad Johnson, a professor of Columbia Law School, has published research showing that although black applicants to American law schools now have higher grade point averages and higher scores on the Law School Admission Test the number of blacks gaining places at the nation’s law schools has declined over the past five years. The data shows that from 2003 to 2008, 61 percent of all blacks who applied to law school did not gain admission to any school to which they applied. Only 34 percent of all white applicants did not get in to any law school to which they submitted an application. The data reveals that in 2008, 3,392 of the 46,500 students entering law school, or 7.3 percent, were black.

Professor Johnson has been on the Columbia Law School faculty since 1989. He is a graduate of Columbia University and Brooklyn Law School.


A New Study Confirms the Negative Impact of a Ban on Race-Sensitive Admissions on African-American College Enrollments

A new study appearing in this month’s Journal of Labor Economics finds that a ban on race-sensitive admissions would have a dramatic effect on black enrollments at the nation’s highest-ranking colleges and universities. The study, authored by Jessica S. Howell, an assistant professor of economics at Sacramento State University in California, also finds that alternative programs to take the place of race-sensitive admissions will not maintain present levels of racial diversity.

The highly sophisticated statistical analysis concludes that black enrollments at the nation’s leading colleges and universities would drop to about 2.7 percent of total enrollments if all admissions decisions were made on a race-neutral basis. Admissions plans such as the one in Texas, where the top 10 percent of all graduating students in each high school are qualified for admission to the University of Texas, are a poor substitute for race-sensitive admissions in maintaining diversity. Increasing outreach to minority students and student support programs do almost nothing to maintain racial diversity, according to the study.

Professor Howell is a graduate of James Madison University. She holds master’s degrees from Miami University in Ohio and the University of Virginia. She earned her Ph.D. in economics at the University of Virginia.

Readers interested in the entire study can download the article from the author’s Web site.


Harvard University Acquires Two Daguerreotype Images of Antebellum African Americans

Harvard University has acquired two daguerreotypes likely produced in the 1840s or 1850s. The images, preserved on silver-coated copper plates, show an unidentified black man and a black woman in what is thought to be an urban setting. The man and woman appear to be prosperous.

The daguerreotype process, first developed in France in the 1830s, produced the world’s first photographic images. Harvard has more than 3,500 daguerreotypes, including a collection of images of South Carolina slaves assembled by naturalist and Harvard faculty member Louis Agassiz.


South African Government Offers Cash Rewards to Universities That Boost Graduation Rates

In South Africa about 40 percent of students drop out during their first year at a university. And the dropout rate for blacks is far higher than the rate for whites.

Now the government is offering cash incentives to universities that are able to improve their graduation rates. In order to be eligible for the government’s teaching development grants, universities will be required to publish the pass rate for individual courses so that students will know their prospects for success. In their grant applications, universities will be required to show how they plan to improve the pass rates for courses where students are having the most trouble obtaining a passing grade.



Historically Black University Seeks to Add Unique Doctoral Program

North Carolina A&T State University, the historically black educational institution in Greensboro, has asked the state board of governors to approve a doctoral degree program in computational science and engineering. The field is concerned with modeling and simulation and has practical applications in industry such as in automobile and aircraft manufacturing.

At the present time, only nine universities in the country offer doctoral degree programs in the field and none are in the state of North Carolina. The university currently has a master’s degree program in the field. The program has produced 17 master’s degree recipients since 2005. All are currently employed.

In 2008, the latest year for which data is available, North Carolina A&T awarded 11 doctoral degrees.


Appointments, Promotions, and Resignations

• Pamela Y. George was promoted to the position of assistant dean of academic affairs at Yale College. She was the assistant dean of students and director of the Afro-American Cultural Center. Dean George has been an administrator at Yale since 1999.

• Caesar Akuetey was promoted to full professor of modern languages and literatures at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. A native of Ghana, Dr. Akuetey has been on the faculty of Knox College since 1994.

Professor Akuetey is a graduate of the University of Science and Technology in Ghana and holds bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from the Université de Franche Comté.

• Tommie L. Robinson Jr., associate professor of pediatrics at the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, was elected president of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Dr. Robinson holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Mississippi and a doctorate from Howard University.

• Anthony Holloman was named vice president for institutional advancement at South Carolina State University. He was the director of athletics at Tuskegee University.

Holloman is a graduate of Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, and holds a master’s degree from the United States Sports Academy.

• Charlie Nelms, chancellor of North Carolina Central University in Durham since August 2007, has been elected to the board of trustees of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

Chancellor Nelms is a graduate of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. He holds master’s and doctoral degrees from Indiana University.

• Connie Walton was named interim provost and vice president of academic affairs at Grambling State University in Louisiana. Since 2005 she has served as dean of the university’s College of Arts and Sciences.

Dr. Walton is a graduate of Grambling State University and holds a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Southern Mississippi.


Copyright © 2010. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. All rights reserved.