MacKenzie Scott’s HBCU contrasts with others’ early approaches



Novelist and billionaire philanthropist Mac Kenzie Scott has so far given at least $ 560 million To 23 historically black colleges and universities. These donations are part of an offer she announced in 2019 for quickly devote most of your fortune for charities.

Scott’s gifts, including the $ 6 million she donated to Tougaloo College in Mississippi and $ 45 million she donated to North Carolina A&T University, vary in size, but almost all colleges and universities describe this funding as “historic”. For many, it was the biggest donation they had ever received from an individual donor.

Scott, previously married to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, isn’t causing a stir just because of the magnitude of his donations. It has an unusually low restrictive character, exit approach.

“I gave everyone a contribution and I encouraged them to spend it on what they think best serves their efforts”, Scott wrote in a blog post from July 2020.

She sees the standard demands that universities and other organizations report to funders on their progress as heavy distractions. Instead of negotiating detailed agreements before making a donation, she works with a team of advisors to stealthily control a wide range of nonprofits and colleges and universities from afar before surprising them with its unprecedented multi-million dollar giveaways that are coming without any conditions.

Scott is also support students of color by donations to the United Negro College Fund and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which provide scholarships to HBCU students, and supporting many other colleges and universities that enroll a large number of minority students.

His approach contrasts sharply with how many wealthy white donors have interacted with nonprofits serving black people, including HBCUs, in the past. Like a philanthropy historian, I studied the paternalism of white donors, including those who helped many of these schools open their doors.

HBCU origins

The first HBCUs were founded in the Northern States before the Civil War, including Cheyney and Lincoln universities of Pennsylvania and Wilberforce University in Ohio. After the war, most HBCUs were established in the southern states. These institutions were lifesavers for black Americans seeking higher education during decades of segregation Jim Crow which excluded them from other colleges and universities. (Disclosure: I graduated from Lincoln University with my BA.)

Although many white philanthropists made large donations to these schools, their support was fraught with prejudice. Initially, white donors pushed the HBCUs to focus on vocational training, then called ‘industrial education’, like the forge, printing and shoemaking, rather than more intellectual pursuits.

White philanthropists, including Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller had poured millions of their fortune into the proliferation of Black industrial schools at the beginning of the 20th century. The HBCUs Hampton University in Virginia and Tuskegee University in Alabama, which received donations from Scott, have been models of industrial education for decades.

The vocational curriculum of these schools was touted as preparing black students to become skilled laborers and college teachers. At that time, however, most graduates were working as unskilled workers or professional teachers.

Southern whites overwhelmingly approved of this arrangement, which has left many HBCU graduates at the bottom of the society ladder rather than educated citizens. Emphasis on industrial education in HBCUs preserved the superior economic status of white Americans and racists segregation system. But the educational aspirations of African Americans demanded much more.

WEB Du Bois, a prominent black intellectual, was a leading critic of funding obtained by HBCUs from wealthy whites. He said: “Education is not and should not be private philanthropy; it is a public service, and whenever it becomes simply a gift from the rich, it is in danger.

In 1904, the head of the HBCU Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of the Daytona Normal and Industrial School for Black Girls in Florida – now Bethune-Cookman University – felt that pressure. She placed “industrial”On behalf of his school to attract white funds. But she sought to give black students a liberal arts education that she said would support their full citizenship.

Decades later, the sociologist Charles S. Johnson was the first black president of Fisk University, starting in 1946. He sought to transform as Tennessee HBCU, founded in 1866, as a black liberal arts education hub in partnership with philanthropists and white foundations rather than covertly.

In short, HBCU leaders have faced a predicament for generations: When wealthy white donors give in big donations, can the money really be used to support black interests and educational goals?

Harmful backlash

When the HBCU got funding early on, that money was often compromised because of bigotry.

In 1887, for example, the Georgia SThe state legislature withdrew $ 8,000, valued at approximately $ 220,000 today, in critical annual funding from the University of Atlanta. The HBCU, founded in 1865, had flouted southern standards by allowing whites and blacks to share campus facilities, something white politicians did not appreciate.

Later, the school adopted a liberal arts curriculum, going against the more professional emphasis that white segregationists preferred.

In response, many white philanthropists withdrew their donations.

Despite this challenge, the University of Atlanta persevered and eventually merged with Clark College. And so it is historically significant that Scott gave Clark University of Atlanta $ 15 million in 2020 to use as it sees fit. The school is use the money for academic innovation, infrastructure and scholarships and to build up its endowment.

Undercutting black medical schools

In 1908, there were seven black medical schools in the United States. In 1921, following a sustained attack on these institutions, only two remained: Meharry Faculty of Medicine in Nashville and Howard University in Washington, DC

The loss of these schools began in 1910, when Andrew Carnegie Foundation Funded Report by educator Abraham Flexner. As part of a broader reform movement to standardize medical education, the Flexner study recommended the closure of five black medical schools. This led to white backers breaking off their support.

At the time, there were big problems with medical training at all levels in the USA. There were no standards for the curriculum or the teaching. But the particular problems of black medical schools – insufficient funding, insufficient faculty, and inadequate facilities – have been exacerbated by Jim Crow’s segregation and condescension of the establishment.

Flexner site visits were incredibly short. He lambasted black doctors as a group without interviewing them. He recommended supporting Meharry and Howard to ensure that at least some black doctors would be able to treat black patients in separate hospitals and prevent the disease from spreading to the white population.

The Carnegie and Rockefeller foundations were initially reluctant to support the two surviving medical schools in implementing the reforms suggested by Flexner. Their subsequent funding fluctuated and flowed irregularly. Researchers estimated black medical schools shut down after Flexner’s damning report allegedly produced 35,000 black doctors over the past century.

For decades, HBCUs such as Xavier University of Louisiana, who received $ 20 million from Scott in 2020, were top producers of black graduates who become doctors.

A persistent problem

Long-term shortage of black doctors remains a critical issue Publichealth problem today, reflecting the continuing underfunding of HBCUs.

For example, the Maryland HBCUs won a settlement against the state in 2021 totaling $ 577 million intended to address decades of underfunding of the state’s predominantly white colleges and universities.

Scott funded three of these public institutions: Bowie State, Morgan State and University of Maryland Eastern Shore in 2020.

A review completed in 2021 of Tennessee State University, another HBCU, found that the state had underfunded it by about $ 544 million compared to the school’s white counterparts, dating from 1950.

HBCU today

Today there is about 100 HBCU, half of which are public establishments. They educate around 300,000 students and award nearly 50,000 diplomas per year.

Seventy percent of HBCU students are eligible for Pell grants, making schools essential for first-generation and low-income students. Although they represent only 3% of all degree-granting institutions, HBCUs confer 13 percent of all baccalaureate degrees obtained by black Americans.

Today a a disproportionate share of HBCU graduates becoming physicians – make these schools a vital access point into the middle class for students of color.

And yet, HBCUs are financially fragile. the Top 10 HBCU Endowments Total $ 2 Billion, only 1 percent of $ 200 billion collectively owned by the 10 predominantly white colleges and universities with the largest endowments.

Despite the financial difficulties these schools faced, HBCU graduates include some of America’s most eminent personalities, including Martin Luther King Jr., vice president Kamala Harris, multimedia mogul Oprah winfrey, judge of the Supreme Court Thurgood Marshall, filmmaker Spike Lee, and Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison.

There is no way to know the total toll suffered by the HBCUs and the black community at large from long-term underfunding and donor hostility. In my opinion, it will take decades of Scottish donations for the HBCUs to recoup what has been lost in time, compound interest, and generational impact.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a Partnership The Chronicle has partnered with The Associated Press and Conversation to expand coverage of philanthropy and nonprofit organizations. The three organizations are supported for this work by the Lilly Foundation. This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license.


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