10 Civil and Human Rights Activists Who Attended Historically Black Colleges & Universities

HBCUs have and continue to be campuses that empower students not only academically but socially as well. It is a mission of uplift and service found at many of these institutions that inspires students to be more socially aware, active in their communities, and to speak out against injustice. We often hear the names of some of the most well known activists and agents of social justice that attended HBCUs, such as Martin Luther King Jr. or W.E.B. Du Bois. This Monday Morning MSI Lineup will bring to your attention some other great activists who found themselves being inspired and empowered as HBCU students.

Luper1.) Clara Luper, Langston University

Clara Luper graduated from Langston University in 1944. In 1951 she earned a master’s degree in history from the University of Oklahoma, where she was the first black student admitted to a graduate history program. Luper led one of the first sit-ins — at a drugstore in Oklahoma City, 18 months before the Greensboro, North Carolina activism at Woolworth. On Aug. 19, 1958, Luper led three other adult chaperones and 14 members of the youth council into the Katz Drug Store in Oklahoma City, where they took seats at the counter and asked for Coca-Colas.

bond2.) Julian Bond, Morehouse College

Julian Bond enrolled at Atlanta’s Morehouse College, where he helped found The Pegasus, a literary magazine, and interned at TIME magazine. While still a student, Bond became a founding member of the Committee on Appeal for Human Rights. He led nonviolent student protests against segregation in Atlanta parks, restaurants and movie theaters. Bond helped form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1960.

Rustin3.) Bayard Rustin, Wilberforce University & Cheyney University

Bayard Rustin attended Wilberforce University in Ohio, and Cheyney State Teachers College (now Cheney University of Pennsylvania), both historically black schools. By the 1950s, Rustin was an expert organizer of human rights protests. In 1953, he was arrested on a morals charge for publicly engaging in homosexual activity and was sent to jail for 60 days; however, he continued to live as an openly gay man. In 1958, he played an important role in coordinating a march in Aldermaston, England, in which 10,000 people demonstrated against nuclear weapons.

Richardson4.) Gloria Richardson, Howard University

Gloria Richardson attended Howard University, where she studied sociology and participated in protests for civil rights. In January 1962, members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee protested against segregation in Cambridge. With Richardson at the helm, the Cambridge Movement began to advocate for economic rights as well as desegregation.

Clark5.) Septima Poinsette Clark, Benedict College & Hampton University

Septima Poinsette Clark was a graduate of Benedict College and Hampton University. Clark is best known for her role in developing the Citizenship Schools. During the 1950s and 1960s, thousands of disenfranchised African Americans passed through Citizenship School classes in which they learned to read and write in order to pass the literacy tests required by southern states to register to vote. Beyond preparing adults to gain access to the voting booth, Clark’s curriculum taught students how to wield the power of the ballot to transform everyday life.

Nash6.) Diane Nash, Fisk University

By 1961, Diane Nash had emerged as one of the most respected student leaders of the sit-in movement in Nashville, TN. Raised in middle-class Catholic family in Chicago, Nash attended Howard University before transferring to Nashville’s Fisk University in the fall of 1959. Shocked by the extent of segregation she encountered in Tennessee, she was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in April 1960. In February 1961, Diane served jail time in solidarity with the “Rock Hill Nine” — nine students imprisoned after a lunch counter sit-in.  In 1962, she was sentenced to two years in prison for teaching nonviolent tactics to children in Jackson, MS, although she was four months pregnant. She was later released on appeal. Nash played a major role in the Birmingham de-segregation campaign of 1963 and the Selma Voting Rights Campaign of 1965, before returning to her native Chicago to work in education, real estate and fair housing advocacy.

Ahuja7.) Kiran Ahuja, Spelman College

For almost twenty years, Kiran Ahuja has dedicated herself to improving the lives of women of color in the U.S. Well-known as a leader among national and grassroots AAPI and women’s rights organizations, Kiran served as the founding Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) from 2003-2008. Kiran built NAPAWF from an all-volunteer organization to one with a paid professional staff who continue to spearhead successful policy and education initiatives, expanded NAPAWF’s volunteer chapters and membership, and organized a strong and vibrant network of AAPI women community leaders across the country.

Following law school, she was chosen as one of five Honors Program trial attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, where she litigated education-related discrimination cases and filed the Department’s first peer-on-peer student racial harassment lawsuit. In addition, she participated in the Division’s National Origin Working Group as part of a core group of attorneys who organized response efforts for the Division after the September 11 terrorist attacks.  Kiran was appointed on December 14, 2009 to the position of Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), housed in the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, DC.

Mulholland 8.) Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, Tougaloo College

 Joan Trumpauer arrived in Jackson, MS by train from New Orleans, LA as part of the June 4, 1961 Mississippi Freedom Ride. The group was promptly ushered by Jackson police to a waiting paddy wagon; all nine riders refused bail. Trumpauer was transferred to Parchman State Prison. In an interview she recalls the harrowing conditions at Parchman, which included forced vaginal examinations used as a tactic to humiliate and terrorize female prisoners.  After the Freedom Rides, Trumpauer studied at Tougaloo College and was a Freedom Summer organizer in 1964. She later worked at the Smithsonian with the Community Relations Service and at the Departments of Commerce and Justice before teaching English as a second language at an Arlington, VA elementary school.

Terry9.) Bryant Terry, Xavier University of Louisiana

Bryant Terry is a graduate of Xavier University in Louisiana. Terry is an eco-chef, zfood justice activist, and author of Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine. In 2001, Terry founded b-healthy! (Build Healthy Eating and Lifestyles to Help Youth), a five-year initiative created to raise awareness about food justice issues and empower youth to be active in creating a more just and sustainable food system.

agnew10.) Phillip Agnew, Florida A&M University

Phillip Agnew first came to community activism as a student at Florida A&M University after 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson was beaten to death at a Florida boot camp. Seven years later, in response to teen Trayvon Martin being killed, Agnew formed the Dream Defenders, which brought vigor and national attention to the Martin case from the start. The black-and-brown-youth-led Dream Defenders now has chapters on nine college campuses in Florida and highlights racial and social economic-justice issues like prison privatization, racial profiling and “zero tolerance” policies in schools — which many believe lead students of color straight into the prison system. Although he was locked out as a speaker at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, Agnew kept it moving and put his remarks online. He tweeted: “We won’t use this as an opportunity to bash older generations. They ran out of time. Youth will rise. And our time is now.”



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