A Black History Month Tribute: Celebrating the Gift of HBCUs and the Legacy of the Atlanta Student Movement

At Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (GBPI), we envision a fair and inclusive Georgia where all people prosper. In keeping with that vision, we urge the state to honor the arduous journey of Black students and the invaluable role of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in Georgia.  

As a North Carolinian, I grew up learning about the “Greensboro Four,” a group of Black college student activists from North Carolina A&T State University, who staged a pivotal sit-in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter on February 1, 1960. This was one of the earliest acts of civil disobedience by student activists during the Civil Rights Movement. Their direct action sparked a student activist movement around the South and ultimately lit a fire under a group of brave students from the Atlanta University Center.  

The Atlanta Student Movement began in March of 1960, comprised of students from Morris Brown College, Morehouse College, Clark Atlanta University, Spelman College and the Interdenominational Theological Center. The courageous work of these students and other Civil Rights Leaders led to the passage of civil rights legislation in 1964 and 1965. 

At GBPI, this Black History Month, we honor HBCUs and the individuals of the Atlanta Student Movement for their fearlessness and fortitude. Their ingenuity in developing An Appeal for Human Rights included sounding the alarm on inequalities in public spaces, voting, education, business, housing and other sectors, leading to change in Georgia and across the nation. Featured in the Atlanta Daily World, The Atlanta Journal, The Atlanta Constitution and later the New York Times, student activists of the Atlanta Student Movement partnered with other like-minded organizations, such as the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, transforming how young adults engaged in the Civil Rights Movement. 

In Georgia, HBCUs have been a cornerstone for Black resilience, Black innovation and Black joy. As a safe haven and an institution for Black students to pursue higher learning following the abolishment of slavery, Georgia HBCUs have played a critical role in the edification of Black Georgians. This development emboldened Black communities and equipped them with the knowledge to network and engage in the Civil Rights Movement. The indelible impression of Georgia’s public and private HBCUs also includes over $1.3 billion in economic impact and creating over 12,040 jobs for the state. 

As an education policy analyst focusing on equitable higher education policy, I urge lawmakers this Legislative Session to honor the contributions that the Atlanta Student Movement and HBCUs have made to Georgia’s success as a state. One way Georgia General Assembly members can do this is by equitably funding Fort Valley State University as a Second Morrill Act Land Grant Institution of 1890.  

The Second Morrill Land Grant of 1890 required that former Confederate states either establish separate land-grant institutions for students of color or show that admission to public institutions of higher education was not restricted based on race. Under that law, the state has a long-standing obligation to support HBCUs equitably. Meeting that obligation and taking a broad restorative approach to funding HBCUs are concrete ways we can commemorate the work of Atlanta Student Movement activists. 

What I love about my journey from North Carolinian to Georgian is my proximity to the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement’s student activism and the Atlanta Student Movement. I’ve had the privilege of meeting Lonnie C. King, Charles Black, Roslyn Pope, Wylma Long Blanding, and Carolyn Long Banks. These brave Atlanta Student Movement leaders and all those who risked their lives for humanity deserve praise as we remember Black Georgian leaders this Black History Month. Their unwavering dedication to justice calls for our collective action.

I invite you to stand with me by paying tribute to the indelible legacy of activists from the Atlanta Student Movement. One way to contribute is by contacting your lawmakers and advocating for equitable funding for HBCUs, emphasizing their profound influence on the state of Georgia. Lastly, I urge you to share your personal stories with lawmakers, underscoring the lasting impact of Civil Rights leaders who paved the way for all people to access higher education in Georgia. Let our voices resonate, ensuring that the commitment to justice and educational equity remains a beacon for progress in our community. 

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