From Booker T. Washington to Kamala Harris: The Legacy of HBCU Graduates in Politics
The rich history of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the United States is a testament to the resilience and determination of African Americans in their pursuit of higher education and equal opportunity. As institutions designed to provide access to education for African Americans, HBCUs have produced some of the most influential figures in American history, particularly in politics. This article will explore the legacy of HBCU graduates from early leaders like Booker T. Washington to modern politicians such as Kamala Harris.
Booker T. Washington, a renowned educator, author, and orator, was born into slavery but rose to prominence as an advocate for African American education during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Washington was among the first generation of African American leaders born into freedom after the Civil War, and he played a critical role in promoting vocational education for black Americans as a path towards economic self-reliance and eventual integration into mainstream American society. Washington’s most lasting contribution was his establishment of Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Alabama – one of the nation’s first HBCUs – in 1881.
Since then, HBCUs have continued to foster leadership and advocacy among their graduates across a wide range of fields. In politics, one such influential figure is Thurgood Marshall, who graduated from Howard University School of Law. As a lawyer and civil rights icon, Marshall successfully argued in front of the Supreme Court against racial segregation in public schools through the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Later on, he became the first African American Supreme Court Justice, serving from 1967 to 1991.
Entering a new era, Kamala Harris’ rise to political prominence highlights the ongoing contributions HBCU graduates make to politics and society overall. Born to a Jamaican father and Indian mother, Harris attended Howard University in Washington D.C., where she studied political science and economics. During her time at Howard, she was a member of the debate team and became actively involved in various social advocacy organizations. After graduating from the University of California, Hastings College of Law, Harris embarked on a successful career as a public prosecutor. She went on to serve as California’s Attorney General and later as a United States Senator before being elected as the Vice President of the United States in 2020.
Harris’ election as Vice President has invigorated interest in HBCUs and the role these institutions play in nurturing African American students’ talents. Harris’ success, along with those of Booker T. Washington, Thurgood Marshall, and many others, underscores the importance of HBCUs in the shaping of America’s political landscape.
Throughout history, the legacy of HBCU graduates has been undeniably influential. As trailblazers who have shattered glass ceilings and propelled significant changes in society, Booker T. Washington, Kamala Harris, and countless other HBCU graduates serve as inspirations for future generations. They demonstrate not only the value of HBCUs but also the vital role higher education plays in shaping modern politics.