Over the years, I’ve encountered differing views concerning the value and quality of an education earned from a Historically Black College/University (HBCU). I personally, never had the HBCU experience, having earned a Bachelor of Applied Science from Valdosta State University (VSU), a Predominantly White Institution (PWI).
To be truthful, I didn’t even know VSU was NOT an HBCU. I really didn’t give it much thought when choosing the university from which I would earn my degree. I simply chose the school which accepted the largest number of the credits I’d earned from other colleges and universities. My 20 years in the United States Air Force, had made it necessary for me to attend multiple schools over the course of my military career—frequent reassignments, made changing schools often, a necessity (there weren’t any online courses then).
However, my father attended Stillman College—an HBCU—from 1952 to 1955. He graduated with a B.A. degree, which ultimately, led to a teaching job in the small Georgia hamlet of Morgan. There, in the all-Black segregated school, he eventually became the principal. He finished his teaching career at Calhoun County High School, after 35 years as a dedicated educator.
In those times, there was no such designation as an HBCU, there were simply White colleges and universities and Negro or “Colored” colleges and universities. These Black or Negro schools, were essentially, the only option available for young Black men and women wanting to further their education, beyond high school.
Prior to my father, my grandmother and two of my great aunts, attended Albany State Teacher’s College, now known as Albany State University; another, HBCU. They too, became teachers. As a matter of fact, Great Aunt Willie Eva, was the last principal to preside over the “one room” schoolhouse, located in a rural Black community, during the early 1900’s. She has since been recognized, post-mortem, as one of the early pioneers of education in Southwest Georgia.
I interviewed my “genius” son, Aaron, for this article. He is also, the product of an HBCU education. He attended Fort Valley State University (FVSU), in the small college town of Fort Valley (what else would it be called right?), from 2011 until 2015. He completed all four years as an honor student, and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology. Immediately afterwards, he secured a job as a microbiologist in the lab of a company specializing in insuring food safety.
One thing that should be known about Aaron, he is a man of few words, but his sparsely worded answers to my interview questions, speak volumes. The interview follows:
Me: So, Aaron, why did you choose FVSU, an HBCU, to further your education?
Aaron: I had heard that the HBCU experience was a unique and essential experience for a young Black man, AND it was less expensive than other PWI institutions.
(Believe me when I say, that expenses were major concern of his mother and I.)
Me: Do you ever regret choosing an HBCU?
Aaron: No, I don’t regret it at all. I am glad that I chose Fort Valley State as my alma-mater.
Me: What about the HBCU experience impressed you the most?
Aaron: The faculty, staff and student body, were more like family than anything else. They really reached out to me. They led, advised, assisted, and mentored me, from the moment I stepped on campus until the day, I received my diploma. As a matter of fact, some of them still act as mentors for me to this very day.
Me: Was there anything else that stood out as an uniquely positive experience at FVSU?
Aaron: I feel that, because of our similar backgrounds, my professors, administrators, and counselors really understood what I was going through and where I was coming from, so to speak.
Me: Do you feel that you’ve been restricted or hindered, in anyway, because your degree is from an HBCU?
Aaron: No, as a matter of fact, one of my co-workers has a degree from a PWI and we do the exact same job.
Me: Would you recommend an HBCU to a young person just graduating from high school?
Aaron: Yes, definitely. I would more than recommend it. The family-like atmosphere and comradery are exceptional.
The following is an excerpt from the Encyclopedia of Alabama:
Nancy DuPree, University of Alabama
Robert DuPree, University of Alabama
Stillman Institute—later Stillman College—was founded in 1876, at the end of Reconstruction and the beginning of a difficult period for African Americans in the South. Its story actually begins earlier, before the Civil War, however, when a group of white Presbyterians at Tuscaloosa’s First Presbyterian Church, concerned with the plight of people of color, initiated the “Sunday School for Negroes.”
The Sunday School eventually evolved into Salem Presbyterian Church, a predecessor of Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Tuscaloosa. In 1875, Charles Allen Stillman, who had become First Presbyterian Church’s pastor in 1870, sent an overture to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (the Southern Presbyterians) proposing a training school for black ministers.
Stillman’s most distinguished graduate, William Sheppard, studied for the ministry at Stillman House from 1883 to 1886; Sheppard became a missionary to the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), where he exposed atrocities perpetrated by commercial interests against the people of the Kasai region; he was charged with libel by the Kasai Rubber Company, and his trial (in which he was acquitted) brought international attention to the systematic abuse and occasional murder of African people in the rush to plunder the continent’s wealth.
In 1898, the school purchased the former Cochrane plantation house and 20 acres of land on the west side of Tuscaloosa, which remains the site of the present campus, on the street that is now Stillman Boulevard. In its new location, the institute established a farm, where students could work for their room and board. The Cochrane home was used as a student residence for a time but was soon demolished because of its poor state of repair. Today the marble columns from the Cochrane home grace the façade of Stillman College’s Sheppard Library.
A secondary school was added to the ministerial school in 1899, when non-theological students joined the student body and the first women were admitted as day students. At this time, the curriculum included vocational and practical skills, including instruction in farming methods.
Also in 1899, the Presbyterian U.S. General Assembly approved the opening of the school to all who wished to enter. From that time until the present, children of white faculty and administrators could be found among the generally African American student population. As later President Cordell Wynn once wrote, Stillman Institute/College in effect has been integrated since the end of the nineteenth century.
Phillips was succeeded by Reverend O. B. Wilson, who was killed during a telephone conversation when a bolt of lightning hit the wires. Wilson was followed by superintendents James C. Snedecor, Ebenezer Hutchinson, and R. K. Timmons.
Stillman Institute opened a junior college division in 1927, during the tenure of Superintendent William Forney Osborne. Also in that year, the Presbyterian Women’s Auxiliary raised funds to establish a nursing school. The Emily Estes Snedecor Nurses’ Training School and Hospital was opened in 1930 and operated until 1946.
Throughout the depression years, the students grew most of their food on the farm, and Jackson went to the Tuscaloosa Farmers’ Market every week to sell and buy vegetables. Jackson and his wife—who served as Dean of Women, taught classes, and performed a heavy round of other duties—went without pay for a year. The school survived, and in 1937 the junior college was accredited. In 1940, Jackson’s title was changed from Superintendent to President. Jackson was succeeded in this position by Rev. Alex Ramsay Bachelor and Dean B. Brewster Hardy (1947-48).
In 1948, during the administration of Samuel Burney Hay (1948-1965), Stillman became a four-year college. Enrollment dropped off, especially among male students, during World War II, but the theological department already had declined by this time, and by 1946 there were only two ministerial students. The theology program was thus abolished.
(NOTE: My father’s class was one of the first to graduate from the school’s four-year curriculum)
In 1949, Stillman Institute was renamed Stillman College and was accredited in 1953 (Dad graduated in 1955). New construction during Hay’s presidency included a gymnasium, Hay College Center, a classroom building, a prayer chapel, and two residence halls. Hay was succeeded in 1955 by Knute O. Broady, who served as interim president until 1967, when Harold N. Stinson, Stillman College’s first African American president (1967-1980), assumed the position.
During the civil rights era, the Stillman College administration’s policy urged caution, but many students participated in rallies, demonstrations, and other civil rights activities in Tuscaloosa. In 1963, a group of students at Stillman served as a support group for friend Vivian Malone as she and James Hood registered for summer school at the nearby all-white University of Alabama.
Today, Stillman offers traditional liberal-arts courses and several pre-professional majors, as well as special academic programs including night school, the Harte Honors College, Military Science (ROTC), the Program in Experiential Learning, and the Stillman Management Institute. Extracurricular opportunities include a large variety of sports, Band, Scholar Bowl team, newspaper and yearbook staffs, and the renowned Stillman College Choir, which has performed all over the United States and abroad.
Although it is now governed by a self-perpetuating board of trustees, Stillman retains strong ties to the Presbyterian Church USA; Presbyterian bodies including the Presbyterian Women’s Organization frequently meet on the campus, and Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church is located on the campus. The college is also supported by many alumni who retain their loyalty as Stillman Tigers to the Stillman blue and gold.
Franklin, Samuel. Stillman College: A Glance at its Past. Tuscaloosa, Ala.: Stillman College Archives, 1974.
Harris, Trudier. Summer Snow: Reflections from a Black Daughter of the South. Boston: Beacon Press, 2003.
Lockett, James. Historical Portrait of the Leaders and Missionaries of Stillman College. Tuscaloosa, Ala.: Stillman College Archives, 2005.
Published: May 5, 2009 | Last updated: August 10, 2015
NOTE: The title of this article, references the mascots of the three schools mentioned here:
The Stillman Tigers
The Fort Valley State Wildcats
The Albany State Golden Rams