Historically black Talladega College was widely criticized for its decision to have its marching band participate in President-elect Trump’s inauguration parade. Much of the uproar has to do with black colleges’ roots in combating unequal education, a feat that many argue will deteriorate under Trump’s presidency. While some see black colleges as segregationist and outdated, they have had a long history in promoting black education and progress, particularly in an era when black achievement was not considered possible.
While slavery was abolished at the end of the Civil War in 1865, the first public black high school for children in Atlanta, Georgia did not open until 1924. As a result, black children of the postbellum often weren’t given the opportunity to continue their education past elementary school, and black colleges emerged to remedy this lack of educational equality. Thompson writes, “In the first years after emancipation about 90-95 percent of the adult black population was functionally illiterate. Before these colleges could go about the serious business of higher education they first had to prepare blacks on the elementary and secondary levels.”
While the first teachers after emancipation, both black and white, came from the North, an increasing number of blacks earned degrees from Southern black colleges. These colleges then hired more black teachers, not in an attempt to promote segregation, but because it was mostly black teachers who wanted to teach black students.
Black education was hard won in the South and not without very real opposition from the white population. According to Thompson, “teachers were beaten, schools were burned, and black students and their parents were frequently intimidated.” Blacks were believed to be uneducable and unfit for anything more than menial labor. According to an article published in The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, learning from black professors has given black students effective role models, which has resulted in a higher graduation rate from black colleges “than the national average for blacks matriculating at predominantly white colleges.” Black colleges have also been on the forefront of fighting for desegregation. For instance, Howard University was instrumental in getting public school segregation deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court and against the 14th Amendment.
With black colleges’ history of providing a learning environment that uplifts minorities without denying the entrance of whites, Talladega College’s participation in Trump’s inauguration parade makes many wonder if the college is rejecting the longstanding tradition of historical black colleges promoting freedom and prosperity across color lines.