By Matthew Little
It was a hazy morning in early May, with the sun engaged in what seemed a losing battle to create the expectation of a North Carolina spring. But neither threatening weather nor anything else could possibly erase the smiles from the faces of the more than a thousand young, bright-eyed students eagerly waiting to receive their degrees.
They seemed hardly able to wait for the end to throw their graduation caps in the air as the traditional symbol of degree completion.
For me, however, the nostalgia was intermingled with a degree of trepidation. When I was one of those students more than a half century ago, military officials were waiting behind the freshman dormitory to take those of us with graduation deferments to an induction center in Fort Braggs, N.C.
Yes, this was the first time that I had visited the campus since my pre-World War II graduation. The college: N.C. Agricultural and Technical State University, an HBCU (Historically Black College/University). The reason I was there now: the graduation of my grandson.
The visit also provided me a chance to get a first-hand look at one of the Historical Black Colleges birthed by the institution of racial segregation. There were hopes among many early HBCU advocates that the legal elimination of segregation would make Black institutions at any level disappear like the dinosaur.
While one is not surprised to see an occasional Caucasian face there, as well as instructors, this campus, like the other HBCUs, is still overwhelmingly a Black school. Its White population is a mere token in proportion.
The lack of integration, however, has not impeded the growth and expansion of this university, which has more than tripled in size and academics. It surprised me to find that there were more than 1,000 bachelor’s degree graduates, which is more than the entire student body during my student years.
I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the university offers doctoral degrees in several disciplines. The school also prides itself on being America’s top producer of African Americans with doctorates in engineering.
The university has maintained its recognition of civil rights history. In front of the main administration building is a life-sized bronze statue, but not of some philanthropic donor who has given big bucks to the school.
Instead, the statue is of four freshmen students who in 1960 defied segregation laws and sat down at a lunch counter, an act that would be replicated throughout the country. They became known nationally as “the A&T Four.”
I recall reading of the incident in the paper, but I was too busy at the time trying to fashion my own future to even be cognizant of the fact that the historical event occurred at my old school.
Anyway, congratulations, grandson — Damania Bediako — and good luck to the Historic Black Colleges and Universities all over the country.
Matthew Little welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
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