Homecoming: A Celebration of HBCUs and Their Legacies
Homecoming at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) is an annual highlight for the campus and the community, celebrating Black joy and culture. A highly anticipated and important event, homecoming allows these institutions to connect with their communities and to forge relationships between generations of students and alumni. The bond is nurtured at events like homecoming where generations of African Americans return to a place where they are celebrated and uplifted.
HBCUs: A History
The first colleges for African Americans were established largely through the efforts of the Freedmen’s Bureau and black churches and missionary organizations such as the American Missionary Association. The second Morrill Act of 1890 required states—especially former confederate states—to provide land-grants for institutions for black students if admission was not allowed elsewhere. As a result, many Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were founded.
Between 1861 and 1900 more than 90 institutions of higher learning were established. Shaw University—founded in Raleigh, N.C., in 1865—was the first black college organized after the Civil War.
HBCUs are defined by the Higher Education Act of 1965 as “any historically black college or university established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association determined by the Secretary [of Education].”
Ain’t no telling where I may be / Might see me in D.C. / At Howard homecoming / With my man, Capone, dumbing. The Notorious B.I.G. American Rapper
The Alumni Mixer
The Step Show
The Halftime Show
The Closing Chapel Service
The Alumni Mixer
Scores of esteemed scholars have graduated from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), which also have fostered many important political movements. Notable academics like Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois, both HBCU alumni, used their respective universities to advance discussions about overcoming racial prejudice and uplifting the African American community. Great leaders of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement—Stokely Carmichael, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dr. Joseph Lowery and Diane Nash, to name a few—were educated and nurtured on HBCU campuses.
W. E. B. Dubois, Fisk University
Kenya Barris, Clark Atlanta University
Spike Lee, Morehouse College
Andre Leon Talley, North Carolina Central University
Booker T. Washington, Tuskegee University
Megan Thee Stallion, Texas Southern University
Stokely Carmichael, Howard University
Marian Wright Edelman, Spelman College
Taraji P. Henson, Howard University
Toni Morrison, Howard University
Katherine Johnson, West Virginia State University
Stephen A. Smith, Winston-Salem State University
Amy Sherald, Clark Atlanta University
Stacey Abrams, Spelman College
Jesse Jackson, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University
Michael Strahan, Texas Southern University
Pinky Cole, Clark Atlanta University
The Step Show
Stepping, a ritual dance performance based on synchronized movements and linked to African cultural traditions, originated among Black fraternities in the mid-1900s. It developed as a way for African American fraternities and sororities to express love and pride for their respective organizations to a broader community.
The impact of Historically Black Colleges and University (HBCU) fraternities and sororities cannot be overstated for undergraduates, graduates, and alumni. Lifelong friendships and career network opportunities are formed in the National Pan-Hellenic Council (today known as the “Divine 9”), which includes Alpha Phi Alpha, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, Delta Sigma Theta, Phi Beta Sigma, Zeta Phi Beta, Sigma Gamma Rho and Iota Phi Theta.
A Map of all Historically Black Colleges and Universities
View the locations and founding dates of HBCUs in the United States
"I first witnessed this power out on the Yard, that communal green space in the center of the campus where the students gathered and I saw everything I knew of my black self multiplied out into seemingly endless variations."Ta-Nehisi CoatesBetween the World and Me
Whether it’s called the Hill, Quad, Block, or other nicknames, the center or main part of a campus often is affectionately known as the Yard. It’s the site for plenty of activities—many formal and informal gatherings. Flanked by several major buildings, the Yard is a chief open space for students, faculty and the general public to commune.
Looking Back at HBCU Homecomings: 2022
HBCUs Foster Scholarship, Culture and Community
5 Things To Know: HBCU Edition
Sports and marching bands are two distinctive and celebrated features of many Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). At these universities, sports and marching bands are an essential part of college life, and even figure prominently in prospective students' decisions to attend certain universities today.
HBCU football programs were major producers of elite football talent throughout the 1970s. These institutions’ commitment to investing in the top African American athletes became a draw for both potential students and recruiters. In addition to developing top-level players, these programs allowed aspects of African American culture to blossom on and off the field.
Sports, style and technique came together during athletic halftime performances. These performances included themed Battle of the Bands competitions, step-show contests, and fraternity and sorority traditions. Football rivalries created opportunities for alumni and fans to express unique pride in their institutions.
The Halftime Show
Homecoming games are also where enthusiastic marching bands display their fierce musical talent and highly spirited styles. They are focal points of school spirit, pride, and student camaraderie.
The halftime performance at Historically Black Colleges and University (HBCU) football games has become an important extension of the athletic contests. Beginning in the 1940s, HBCU bands began to break from the traditions of military-inspired marching bands by incorporating dancing and upbeat music into halftime shows. A catalyst for this change in style was cemented with the creation of Florida A&M’s Marching 100 in 1946.
The Marching Band
The band is one of the most celebrated groups at an HBCU. Tuskegee Institute, now known as Tuskegee University, has one of the oldest continually active HBCU bands. Some of the legendary musical directors for the Marching Crimson Pipers include Dr. William P. Foster, who directed Florida A&M University’s Marching 100 from 1946 until his retirement in 1998, and Edward L. Graves, who served as band director at Tennessee State University for 34 years. Distinguished Tuskegee band alumni include writer Ralph Ellison, music icon Lionel Ritchie, former Georgia State Senator Floyd Griffin, Jr., and Conrad “Hutch” Hutchinson Jr., the legendary band director of Grambling State University’s World Famed Tiger Marching Band.
Rhythmic dance troupes strut, stomp, sway, sashay in energetic choreographed routines, decked out in bedazzled, decked out uniforms. Their styles and dance moves - influenced by military step, jazz, West African and hip hop - engage crowds. Generations of HBCU homecoming crowds have enjoyed the performances of dancers such as the Southern University Dancing Dolls, Jackson State University’s Prancing J-Settes, and Alcorn State’s Golden Girls.
The Closing Chapel Service
Founded with the support of the Freedmen’s Bureau and church and missionary organizations, like the American Missionary Association, the various Baptist conventions, and the African Methodist Episcopal Church, many Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) made religious study a part of their instruction.
They made a significant impact on Black faith communities by placing an emphasis on students’ spiritual development and through theological education.
These campuses grew into foundational sites for Black choirs following Emancipation, with HBCU singers gaining international success. Choirs, including those at Hampton Institute (later Hampton University) and the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University, used performance proceeds to “sing up” buildings on their campuses and promote Black education globally. In 1873 for instance, the Jubilee Singers earned enough money to construct Fisk’s first permanent building, Jubilee Hall. Many of the early musical selections consisted of “slave songs” and were instrumental in preserving this unique American musical tradition known today as “Negro spirituals.”