In America, education has always been the avenue to upward social mobility, economic opportunities, and political power. In other words, the easiest and surest way to get “rich” is to get a college education. In fact, according to the U.S. Government those with a college degree earn more than a million dollars (riches) more in their lifetime than those with just a high school diploma. Amazingly even NFL players with a college degree earn 20% more money (riches) over their career than those who do not have a degree!
Those who perpetuated and profited riches off the enslavement and oppression of African-Americans realized the importance that the role education (or lack thereof) contributed to keeping a people enslaved (not rich) mentally, physically, and spiritually. Therefore, American society created vast numbers of repressive laws to try to ensure that African-Americans would not be allowed to gain an education (“riches”). For example, for most of this country’s history, African-Americans risked punishment by death for simply attempting to learn how to read (enrich your mind)!!!
Further, while a basic education liberates an individual from basic ignorance, it is higher education that provides most people with the skills and knowledge that will enable them to be successful in their chosen careers, establishes an intellectual foundation conducive to life-long learning, and creates the all important personal network of life-long friendships which helps one attain their goals more quickly and easily.
So, it should not be a surprise that it was not until 1826 (ironically, there were two who graduated within weeks of each other: John Russwurm from Bowdoin University and Edward Jones from Amherst University) before an African-American obtained a Bachelor’s degree (“riches”), some 300 years after the first class of Whites graduated from Harvard. Clearly this lack of higher education has impeded our communities’ drive towards the riches of prosperity, justice, and equality.
However, since 1826 we have had some tremendous individuals who have earned the highest degrees (“riches”) possible. Many of these extraordinary pioneers have reached back to ensure that our people would have the same opportunities afforded to every other American. Certainly, I could highlight a thousand people and still not come close to the number of influential and dedicated individuals who have fought and won substantial victories in relation to African-Americans and higher education. However, outside of Bros. John Russworm and Edward Jones, in my opinion, the five (5) most significant individuals who have shaped the course and scope of African-American higher education (“riches”) are:
- Dr. W.E.B. Dubois, the first African-American to graduate from Harvard with a Ph.D., author of the best selling Souls of Black Folk, founder of the NAACP, and the father of modern sociology;
- Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the father of Black History Month, pioneer of the study of Black History as a university discipline, and author of the best selling Mis-Education of the Negro;
- Booker T. Washington, a self-taught, ex-enslaved African who created one of the greatest institutions of higher learning for Blacks — Tuskegee University, proponent for Black economic self-reliance, and author of the ground-breaking Up From Slavery;
- Dr. Mary McCloud Bethune-Cookman, the greatest Black woman educator, member of President Roosevelt’s “Black Cabinet,” and founder of Bethune-Cookman University;
- Ada Lois Sipeul-Fisher, the first African-American to graduate from law school in the South, and whose lawsuit against the University of Oklahoma opened the door for the integration of Southern Universities.
In closing, to those ”rich” African-Americans above and the countless others who fought, marched, went to jail, and died for an education (‘riches”) because they understood its transformative power not just for themselves, but our People. I salute and honor you for your sacrifice and understanding. Our community now stands on your powerful shoulders. To us “new school” African-Americans, I challenge us to recommit to education, excellence, and life-long learning. Then we will be able empower ourselves, uplift of our families, and strenghten our communities. In other words we need to get “rich” or die trying!
Black History is American History
Black History is World History
Black History is Our History