Why Historically Black Colleges Are Enjoying a Renaissance

As racial tensions escalate, campuses are seeing a surge in enrollment and a new brand of African-American activism.

Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity alumni at Clark Atlanta University welcome new members (left) of the oldest Greek-lettered organization for African Americans, which counts Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Martin Luther King, Jr., in its ranks.
Photograph by Nina Robinson

It’s the time of year when spring begins to graze the nascent stages of summer. The aroma from food trucks permeates the air while vendors encircle the amphitheater. Students meander among tables selling T-shirts emblazoned with phrases like “Respect This Melanin,” posters of activists such as Muhammad Ali and Angela Davis, and displays of recycled earth-tone jewelry.

At the end of nearly every week, students from Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Clark Atlanta University—adjacent historically black colleges that are part of the Atlanta University Center (AUC)—gather on Spelman’s campus in southwest Atlanta to inaugurate the weekend at the aptly named Market Friday. Stories of these events were a fixture around the dinner table in my home. My mother, sister, aunt, and wife all attended Spelman. My father and his brother went to Morehouse. Still, it’s one thing to hear about such an event, quite another to experience it for yourself.

This is the last Market Friday of the semester, the final one ever for graduating seniors. Market Fridays give students an opportunity to convene beyond classrooms and dormitories, and allow fraternities and sororities to show off choreographed dance and step routines, performances they’ve often spent months practicing. These organizations’ history is tied to public service and advocacy, and their social communities are the bedrock upon which that work is done.

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Photos Highlight the Unique Traditions of Historically Black Colleges
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Why We’re Devoting an Entire Issue of National Geographic to Race

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