Let's Celebrate Howard University

As his young teen son starts thinking about college, The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates takes a colorful trip down memory lane at his alma mater and laments the challenges that HBCUs now face.

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Howard University campus (Wikimedia Commons)

Is it Howard University's job to pave the way for its own obsolescence? That's one of the questions The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates explores as he takes a colorful trip down memory lane at his alma mater and laments the challenges that HBCUs now face. His son is 13 years old and just starting to think about his own college options.

My son is a native of uncertain times. In the land of stop and frisk, history stalks him. But his president is black. And institutions that once defined themselves by his exclusion have thrown open their doors. But as the options for kids like my son have grown in unimaginable ways, the fortunes of black schools have declined.

Howard, which nurtured civil rights warriors like Andrew Young, Thurgood Marshall and Charles Hamilton Houston, has played a special role in the work of integration. But an unspeakable conclusion has followed from that work — that the job of Howard University is to pave the way for its own obsolescence.

That terrible tension was on vivid display last weekend at Howard. A group of us — black parents with ties to The Mecca, as we call it — returned for Homecoming weekend. The football game (versus Morgan State University) was sloppy. A great many of the best college football players are black, but since the fall of Jim Crow, schools like Howard have not been able to compete for them.

But at a black school, football is barely the point. The point is the bands that battle at halftime. The point is the affection in the stands, the warm banter between us, which we invented out on the margins of America.

Read Ta-Nehisi Coates' entire piece at The Atlantic.

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