Background/Context: The current debate about historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs)—whether these colleges are needed in a society that “seeks” equality—is not new but is the product of a continuing controversy that dates back to the close of the Civil War. Since then, each landmark in the history of HBCUs has occasioned renewed discussions of the role of these colleges, with implications for the role of Blacks in society.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This article will examine the legal and social forces that have had an impact on the development of HBCUs. In exploring this history, the authors will employ Derrick Bell’s notion that most Whites will only accommodate the interests of Blacks in achieving racial equality when it is in the best interest of middle- and upper-class Whites—interest convergence.
Research Design: This study is historical in nature, drawing on legal cases, archival documents, legislative decisions, and past research related to the funding, classification, and state of HBCUs.
Conclusions: The authors found that in all but a few cases, legal court decisions, laws, acts, and state and federal decisions as they pertain to HBCUs also had intentional or unintentional benefits for White students and historically White institutions.