Historically Black colleges and universities: Pioneers in opening education

MIT OpenCourseWare’s collaborators share important pieces of American history and culture

MIT Open Learning
MIT Open Learning
Published in
3 min readMar 1


Photo of 8 adults dressed in business attire who are seated and clapping for a presentation.
During the convening of HBCUs, MERLOT, and MIT OpenCourseWare on MIT campus.

By MIT OpenCourseWare

In October of last year, MIT Open Learning hosted representatives from Tennessee State University, Morehouse College, Edward Waters University, Bethune-Cookman University, and Central State University as part of a collaboration supported by the Hewlett Foundation to work with a growing network of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) that have established open educational resources (OER) programs.

This February, our friends at Tennessee State, one of the most active institutions in that network, marked Black History Month with a social media campaign featuring daily “Did You Know?” tidbits about the importance of HBCUs not only in the Black community but in American history and culture as a whole. Among the facts they shared over the course of the month:

  • The first colleges for African Americans were established largely through the efforts of Black churches with the support of the American Missionary Association and the Freedmen’s Bureau. The second Morrill Act of 1890 required states-especially former Confederate states-to provide land grants for institutions for black students if admission was not allowed elsewhere. As a result, many HCBUs were founded.
  • Early HBCUs were established to train teachers, preachers, and other community members. During the 20thcentury, many HBCUs shifted their focus to the promotion of scholarship among African Americans by means of academic councils, conferences, and scholarly journals showcasing Black thought.
  • Such notable figures as W.E.B. DuBois, Ida B. Wells, Booker T. Washington, and Martin Luther King Jr. attended a historically Black college or university.
  • Other alumni of HBCUs have included aviator Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman (Langston College), tennis star Althea Gibson (Florida A & M University), actor Samuel L. Jackson (Morehouse College), director Spike Lee (Morehouse College), businessman Herman Cain (Morehouse College), and Nobel prizewinning novelist Toni Morrison (Howard University).
  • The HBCU Affordable Learning Community is building a collection of free and open educational resources to support faculty and students teaching and learning in Africana, African American, and Black Studies programs, as well as bringing Africana, African American, and Black Studies content and context into all disciplines.

Check out some of the MIT OCW resources that are available on the HBCU Cultural Collections (courses are still being added, check back later for more offerings!):

MIT OpenCourseWare believes that open educational resources can enrich teaching and learning at all institutions, and that the development of culturally relevant OER is a crucial part of that process. We celebrate the work the Affordable Learning Community is doing to make high-quality education accessible to all, helping HBCUs train new generations of Black intellectual and cultural leaders.

Adapted from https://www.ocw-openmatters.org published on March 1, 2023.



MIT Open Learning
MIT Open Learning

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