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Posted under: News

These Are The 6 HBCUs With The Biggest Bragging Rights

These alum are #HBCUProud personified.

HBCU rivalries are sibling-like competitions between historically Black colleges and universities that allow for a year’s worth of boasting.

These competitive, yet playful spats derive from things like Hampton and Howard University’s ongoing Real HU battle to Grambling State and Southern University’s Bayou Classic, to even the playful teasing that comes along with the annual rankings of best HBCUs, that often sees Spelman College, Howard and Xavier University of Louisiana swapping top positions. These time-honored traditions are the stuff bragging rights are made of, but HBCU pride runs even deeper than annual showdowns and stats, it’s also notable alumni, being the first-ever at something as well as societal and historical contributions, among other flaunt-worthy things. 

When it comes to being #HBCUProud, these six institutions, in no particular order, have all the bragging rights necessary to make their alumni among the proudest on the national yard

1. Southern University and A&M College

Southern University and A&M College is a part of the only HBCU system in the world, Southern University System. Founded during the Reconstruction era in 1880, the university, which began in New Orleans, was designed to provide a public higher learning institution for Black people in Louisiana. Now the university features three campuses across the state, including a law school. Its flagship campus is located in Baton Rouge along the historic Scott’s Bluff where the city is said to have derived its French name.

Baton Rouge, which translates to “red stick” was given by French-Canadian explorer Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville who alleged he saw a red stick, which was really a cypress pole used to settle border conflict between two Native American tribes. A commemorative sculpture of the red stick, done by Southern University alumnus Frank Hayden, is prominently featured on the campus and is listed as one of the city’s official landmarks. Aside from being deeply steeped in the founding history of Baton Rouge, Southern University students also played a huge role in the civil rights movement across the city, including seven students who led Baton Rouge’s first lunch counter sit-in in 1960. Three years later, lunch counters were desegregated by vote. 

Although the university possesses many more historical attributes, it is perhaps most widely known for its band, the Human Jukebox. Consistently recognized by USA Today, NCAA, ESPN and Time as one of the nation’s top marching bands, the Human Jukebox has performed at six Super Bowls, two Inauguration Day parades and two Rose Bowl Parades among countless other noteworthy showings. In 2019, multi-hyphenate artist Lizzo not only invited the band and the university's Dancing Dolls to be in her video for “Good as Hell,” but she also filmed it on Southern’s Baton Rouge campus. That’s not the first time big cameras were on campus, the university was also the first college to be featured in the reality series, College Hill. Among other notable firsts, Southern is the first HBCU to launch its own THC medical cannabis products, as Blavity previously reported.

2. Tuskegee University

Tuskegee University is the only college or university campus in the United States to be designated a National Historic Site by Congress. Founded on July 4, 1881, by Booker T. Washington, the university located in Tuskegee, Alabama, is home to some major Black history, including the graves of its founder and George Washington Carver, who are buried next to each other in the school's cemetery. The university also lays claim to being the alma mater of the first African American winner of the National Book Award, Ralph Ellison for his book, Invisible Man. Other notable alumni include Tom Joyner, Lionel Richie, Keenan Ivory Wayans and Betty Shabazz

But the accolades don’t stop there, the university is the originator of the Tuskegee Airmen, a partnership it held with the U.S. Army Air Corps. It is also the alma mater of the most Black general officers in the military, including the country’s first Black four-star general, Daniel "Chappie'' James. Known for sciences, Tuskegee is the number one producer of Black aerospace engineers in the United States, and is also responsible for producing more than 75% of all Black American veterinarians in the world, as the only HBCU with a fully accredited college of veterinary medicine offering doctoral degrees. 

3. Morehouse College

While there are loads of boastworthy things about Morehouse College, one of the largest might just be having an alumnus in Martin Luther King Jr. (class of 1948). The civil rights leader is immortalized throughout the world, but most prominently on a 30-foot statue in Washington, D.C. Other notable Morehouse men include U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, Samuel L. Jackson, Spike Lee, PJ Morton, John David Washington, Jeh Johnson and Bakari Sellers, among others. But the college doesn’t rest its noteworthiness solely on alumni; its road to becoming a college is Black history in itself. Founded as Augusta Institute just two years after the Civil War by a Baptist preacher in response to Black Americans' newfound freedom, the private men’s liberal arts HBCU began as a seminary in Augusta, Georgia. It moved to Atlanta in 1879 and became Atlanta Baptist Seminary. It was renamed Morehouse College in 1913 as it grew into an academically rigorous institution of higher learning.

Morehouse is home to the Dr. Martin Luther King International Chapel and the multi-million-dollar historic collection of King’s papers from his days as a civil rights leader. Several Black-centered films and shows were filmed on its campus, including Hidden Figures, Drumline, Stomp the Yard and The Quad. Spike Lee’s School Daze also filmed three weeks of its production at the college. Academically speaking, Morehouse, the only four-year liberal arts institution that’s historically Black and all-male, consistently produces more Rhodes Scholars than any other HBCU, and the college generally has a home somewhere in the top ten of the U.S. News Best HBCU rankings list. 

4. North Carolina A&T University

Founded in 1891, North Carolina A&T University, the first public college for people of color in its state, is the largest HBCU in the country with an enrollment of 11,039 students. Known for its engineering program, the university is the nation’s leading producer of Black engineers, including the late Ronald McNair, a NASA engineer who rode in the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger mission. Other notable alumni include Jesse Jackson, Alma Adams, Terrance J and Taraji P. Henson, who started her college career there as an engineering major. The university is also widely lauded for its role in research and has had more than 40 patents issued based on their research findings.

5. Howard University

There’s a reason many other HBCUs have no problem considering Howard University the Mecca of all HBCUs -- it has over time been seen as one of the most prestigious colleges catered to Black students. A private university founded in 1867 in Washington, D.C., Howard is one of the only doctoral research extensive HBCUs in the country. It features a law school and medical school, as well as an incredibly popular fine arts program that boasts alumni such as Chadwick Boseman, Phylicia Rashad, Taraji P. Henson, Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway. Other notable university alumni include Ta-Nehisi Coates, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Thurgood Marshall and Vice President, Kamala Harris

This year, the university also laid claim to the number two spot on the U.S. News Best HBCU rankings list. And according to Black College Sports & Education Foundation, Howard is home to one of the country’s top medical schools and is a leading producer of the nation’s Black doctors. Howard is also the birthplace of Black Greek life as five Divine Nine Greek-lettered organizations -- Alpha Kappa Alpha, Omega Psi Phi, Delta Sigma Theta, Phi Beta Sigma and Zeta Phi Beta -- were founded on its campus. Aside from founding exclusive organizations, students at Howard University have traditionally found themselves involved in some of the world’s biggest social justice movements, including protesting apartheid and police brutality and even their own desire for policy change on campus, as Blavity previously reported

6. Spelman College

Founded in 1881 as the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary, Spelman College, renamed in 1924, is one of the country’s most selective women’s colleges, accepting only 41 percent of its applicants each year. It has a 68 percent four-year graduation which is the highest among all HBCUs and sits above the national average graduation rate of 44 percent for Black students at any college or university. Some of the college’s most noteworthy graduates are Stacey Abrams, Marian Wright Edelman, Bernice KingKeshia Knight Pulliam and Rosalind Brewer, who is slated to become the next CEO of Walgreens. Famed writer Alice Walker also spent her first two years of college at Spelman. 

Spelman educates more Gates Millennium Scholars than any other college or university in the country, and it is one of two HBCUs that combined produce half of the country’s female doctorates in all sciences. Also, if the campus ever looks familiar to you, it’s because you’ve seen it before -- it’s one of the colleges featured as exterior shots of the fictional Hillman College in A Different World

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Leslie D. Rose is a Jersey-born, Xavier-educated veteran journalist, editor, photographer, and poet. She is also a lipstick aficionado, Babyface superfan, loving cat mother, and her whole Blatina self at all times. She is the Copy Editor and Weekend Editor at Blavity News.