All posts by Carl Darnell HBCU Trek

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Fayetteville State University Broncos

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According to the historic markers, Fayetteville State University was established in 1867,making it the second oldest public college in the state of North Carolina.  As a part of the University of North Carolina, Fayetteville State University is led by a chancellor.  Due to the leadership of its chancellors, faculty, and staff Fayetteville State University is well-known for the nursing program in the beautiful Southeastern North Carolina Nursing Education and Research Center and well-respected for its multiple partnerships with the U.S. military and establishment of a Center for Defense and Homeland Security.  Beyond the academic accolades, Fayetteville State University offers a lot to its 6000+ student body in the form of campus amenities and aesthetics.   There are at least three statues of Fayetteville State Broncos on the campus greeting people onto the grounds and into the athletic fields. Ceremonies seem to be constantly taking place in the Seabrook Auditorium, I actually stepped into an awards ceremony by accident when I came to the campus.  Modern on-campus accommodations for students include McLeod Hall, University Place Apartments, and the crown jewel Renaissance Hall.

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In addition to military personnel, adult learners, and traditional undergraduates, the Fayetteville State University campus also serves as the host site for two high schools: Cumberland International Early College High School and Cross Creek Early College High School.  With a pipeline of Upward Bound, Educational Talent Search, GEAR UP, two high schools on campus, a partnership with a third high school less than a mile away, and the FSU-Fort Bragg Center satellite with weekend and evening classes on the U.S. Air Force base, Fayetteville State University is poised to continue being a “beacon of guidance and inspiration,” further developing citizens who believe in “deeds not words.”

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Bronco statue and trademark at the entrance to the football field and basketball arena

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Voyager Carl Darnell with Fayetteville State Bronco and staff in the administration building

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Living-Learning Center and traditional style residence hall for underclassmen

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Interesting architecture on campus, the metal and glass structure is home to the Cumberland International Early College High School


Historic spot on campus, water spigot set up by the former slaves who once lived in Fayetteville.

For more information search the Fayetteville State University website

Southern University Lab School SU old library20141217_145127 Southern University Law Center Southern University Services Building

Baton Rouge, Louisiana home to the 512 acre, 6700+ students, Historically Black land-grant university Southern University. Advances in engineering and nursing academic programs, success in the Southwestern athletic conference, and hosting one of the few law schools of any HBCU have led to the sustainability of Southern University among the most well-known Black colleges.  Southern University and A&M College has traditionally been one of the largest Historically Black Colleges facilitating academic programs throughout the state of Louisiana that draw students mostly from its home parish of East Baton Rouge, and also from other states such as Texas, California, Georgia, Illinois, and Mississippi. Southern University Baton Rouge’s unique role as the main campus of a multiple university system, Southern is the only Historically Black university system in the United States, also adds to the institutions reputation and renown.  Contributing to Southern’s popularity among African American communities, the Human Jukebox and SU Dancing Dolls have wowed crowds and inspired budding performing artists together since 1969.

20141217_145950 Mural at Southern University

The Campus is full of art, from sculptures in the middle of campus and a jaguar guarding the library to the symbolic Red Stick overlooking the Mississippi River, culture is alive and well at Southern University.  In terms of culture and history, a interesting fact I learned driving to Southern is that part of the Mississippi River that borders the campus is called the Mulatto Bend.  If that was not enough, the area directly across the river from Southern University is an area deemed Free Negro Point.  Southern is a unique place indeed, one definitely worth a visit.

Southern University Benches Mulatto Bend Free Negro Point Crevasse


Southern University Law Center

Southern University student union

Southern University student union


Statue of mascot in front of library

Southern Basketball arena

Southern Basketball arena

Awesome campus. The first time I’ve ever known an HBCU to be older than its host city. The only residential Black campus I know to transition all of its residence halls to apartment-style living centers.
Nice experience, nice campus, nice students.


Residence Centers



Texas Southern University, the pride of Houston’s third ward.

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Established humbly as Houston’s Colored Junior College, rapidly expanded in light of the 1947 Sweatt court case, and sustained by pure grit, Texas Southern University has a rich history. Texas Southern University, one of only two public HBCUs in the state, has grown from a community college to a doctoral level, 4-year university in a matter of decades. Boasting Barbara Jordan as their most famous alum, scores of graduates from Texas Southern have gone on to make an impact on Houston, the state of Texas, and the American southwest.

Texas Southern University’s 150 acre campus hosts the instruction and services for over 9,600 students.  Texas Southern consists of 11 academic schools and colleges.  The Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern, is one of only five historically Black law schools in the country.

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Touring Texas Southern was exciting, a stroll down Tiger Walk winds through the entirety of campus. Tiger Walk is lined with most of the major campus buildings, the Yard, sculptures, a clock tower, and historic markers. The main library, next door to the campus theater building, is home to two annual exhibits, one dedicated to Barbara Jordan and the other celebrating art in Africa.

Traditional African Art Collection

The film and communications department was particularly active during my weekend visit. While on campus, I witnessed the students filming a meeting. I spoke with a member of the crew about previous movies the film students have made and the movie posters lining the walls of the department.  Next door in Hannah Hall, decades-old murals created by art students adorned the halls. The campus seemed warm and celebrated student creativity: a feeling directly reflected in the attitudes of the students I met.


Carl and the Carolinas: Winston-Salem,


Winston-Salem State University is a historically Black university in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  WSSU was the second institution visited in the Carl and the Carolina’s HBCU Trek, it is located approximately an hour north of Charlotte, NC and is easily accessible from the interstate. The gorgeous campus of WSSU is beset with new buildings and beautiful landscaping.

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There is a healthy mix of historic buildings being renovated to improve accessibility and safety and newer, modern structures on the campus grounds.  A statue of the institution’s founder, a skyscraping clock tower, and multiple metal sculptures accent the academic and administrative buildings around the campus.  During the campus visit the students were warm and friendly, an admission counselor was extremely helpful and open, the library is adorned with powerful Black murals and great open space for reading and studying, and there were signs of growth and progress in the recent completion of the student center and on-going renovation of the administration buildings.

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Considering the recent passing of Maya Angelou, it is special and encouraging to know that the legacy of her powerful words are memorialized on the central clock tower on the Winston-Salem State University campus. Maya Angelou’s words “One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with the potential.  Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue consistently. Without courage, we cannot be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest, consistently”.

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Power. Courage. Determination. UAPB

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Good Friday was great Friday for HBCU Trek. On this day, HBCU Trek collaborated with the STAX Music Academy Community Engagement Specialist to explore each of the historically Black colleges in the state of Arkansas.  First on the list was the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.  Pine Bluff is located south of Little Rock in a remote area of the state.  UAPB borders Pine Bluff Lake which is next to the Arkansas River and adds to the unique scenery of the campus.

Arkansas Pine Bluff, as explained to us by the office of admissions and our two student tour guides, was second higher education institution established in the state of Arkansas.  UAPB opened as Branch Normal College, the Black campus, of Arkansas Industrial University and was tasked with educating teachers for the state’s African American population.  Because the institution received funding from the federal Morrill Land Grant, the school’s mission expanded to providing agriculture, mechanical arts (engineering), and normal (teacher) education; subsequently, the institution changed its name to Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical, and Normal College.  Over its history, UAPB has had an on and off relationship with the University of Arkansas, most recently rejoining the UA system in the early 1970s.

The campus of UAPB is adorned with both historic landmarks and new structures.  At the center of the campus stands the William Edward O’Bryant Bell Tower: the very same tower featured in the university’s logo and seal.  According to our tour guide, UAPB students take pictures in front of the Bell Tower for graduation invitations, postcards, publicizing student organizations’ events, and even for social media profile pictures.  In addition to the historic landmark, the university features a couple of unique, must see sites: the golden lion, the first floor of the Watson Memorial Library, and the UAPB museum.

20140418_134023 20140418_134502 Marching Musical Machine of the Mid-South

As the mascot of UAPB, lion pictures, statutes, and figurines are prominent around campus. The most famous of the lions, however, is the Golden Lion posted in front of the library.  The detail put into the lion’s frame and musculature is uncanny, coupled with the golden coat that shines…glows in the heart of the yard.

The John Brown Watson Memorial Library.  I loved it. The feeling and look of the library upon opening the door was breathtaking. Once Fredrick Douglass looked me square in the eye, I felt imbued with scholastic abilities and a responsibility to use my knowledge to further empower a people. After seeing that Golden Lion in front of the building, the bust of Sir Fredrick Douglass was almost too much to handle–so inspiring. If I went to school at UAPB, I would definitely frequent the library.

Finally, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Museum is a treasure. I have visited over 45 Black college campuses on this HBCU Trek, yet this is the first institutional history museum I have seen so institutionalized and highly developed. To have an entire two-story building dedicated to the history, heritage, and legacy of the host institution is a testament to the love and care UAPB students, administration, and alumni have for their school.  As a researcher, this is a dream find, a scholastic wonderland, an academic smorgasbord; as a HBCU enthusiast, the museum was 7 generations of Black college experience documented, packaged, and put on display for immediate and continual appreciation.

We ended our tour by visiting one of the newest faculty members on campus, Joy Jackson, Ph.D.  Professor Jackson is a native of Pine Bluff, an alumna of UAPB, and currently teaches in the Biology department for the university.  Professor Jackson took us out to a local eatery, Rich’s, and told us about the differences she has experienced between student life and life as a professional academic at UAPB.  Speaking with the tour guides, admissions staff, students walking around campus, and Professor Jackson, I have determined that at UAPB a) it is Live being a Lion, b) a familial atmosphere is fostered 24/7, and c) heritage matters.

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Power. Courage. Determination. UAPB


Library at Philander Smith College

Philander Smith College Library and Technology Center

In a day filled with HBCU journeys, a Memphis explorer and I visited all three of Arkansas’ historically Black colleges. Our journey began with the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff, continue to Arkansas Baptist College, and ended with a self-guided tour of Philander Smith College.

Philander Smith College is located on a hill that overlooks downtown Little Rock. It is a small, private college nestled between the state capital/commercial downtown buildings and a thriving arts district. Because it is directly south of an interstate, the largest building on the north side of campus presents one of the largest signs promoting the college. The result: one cannot help but to see the school’s name Philander and motto “Think Justice” when entering or leaving downtown Little Rock. Along the west side of campus which is also on a busy street, a Philander Smith logo adorns the back of the library. Though it was my first time in Little Rock, I did not get lost finding Philander, with so much signage on the buildings you cannot miss it, and I’m sure it serves as a prominent landmark to the residents of Little Rock.

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Philander Smith has an interesting history. Beginning as Walden Seminary, the institution was established in 1877 by the Freedmen’s Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church.  Soon thereafter, Adeline Smith of Oak Park, Illinois, widow of Mr. Philander Smith, made a significant monetary donation to the Methodist Church to support their missions in the South. In recognition of this sizeable contribution to Walden, the board of Trustees renamed the institution Philander Smith College.  Another institution for African Americans was established in the late 1800s by the daughters of George R. Smith in Missouri.  In the mid-1920, the George R. Smith College buildings were destroyed by a fire.  Considering their losses, the George R. Smith administrators decided to partner rather than perish and transferred their remaining assets to the Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas.  Enhanced by the merger, Philander Smith College has been able to serve the Black community of Arkansas and the South through its mission to advocate for Social Justice.

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The day I arrived at Philander Smith, there happened to be a Spring festival taking place. People were barbequing at one end of the yard, a health summit was taking place in the main academic building, and a live band, Soulution Little Rock, was performing on the steps of the student services building.

Soulution LR performs for PSC spring festival Voyager with Philander Smith undergrads

It was an exciting day to match the exciting campus. New buildings lined the west side of campus, each of the buildings were larger than the structures in the more central part campus and all had large, modern signage and logos.  The lampposts around campus flew banners with the Philander Smith logo and the motto of Building with Purpose.

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SImmons College of Kentucky The Birthplace of Black Higher Education in KentuckyHistory of Simmons University, the predecessor of SCKEntrance to the Simmons College of Kentucky Library

Visit to Simmons College of Kentucky. Simmons caught my attention because it recently gained regional accreditation. As an accredited institution for higher learning, Simmons College of Kentucky students are now able to participate in federal financial aid programs and the institution itself may begin receiving special funding from the federal Strengthening Institutions initiative (Title III of the Higher Education Act of 1965).

Simmons College of Kentucky (SCK) has a very intimate main campus with two multipurpose buildings located in the historic downtown district of Louisville Kentucky. According to our tour guide Darryl, also known as DJ, the college is set in the middle of our community. By our community,  DJ was referencing the public housing community directly across the street from the front of the campus. Simmons physically and operationally connects to Louisville’s Black neighborhoods through formal and informal means. From random cookouts outside of Parrish Hall to public viewings of the gallery of Simmons history, the community is frequently invited and seemingly always welcome on Simmons College’s campus.

After showing us around the campus, DJ told us about his experiences at Simmons and how he hopes to enhance his prison ministry after completing his degrees in religious studies. When he’s not giving campus tours or leading projects with the newly formed Student Government Association, DJ can be found telling people around west Louisville about the college on Kentucky and 7th Street, where they are doing good for the ‘hood.

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HBCU Voyager with Alabama State University students in the Student Center

Quick photo with Alabama State University students in the Student Center

It is a common practice on the HBCU Trek to take a picture with students.  I take every opportunity to speak with the students about a campus. Speaking to students at random, not Student Government Representatives or work study students at the information desk, provides a particular perspective of the campus: they tell you how they have personally experienced the HBCU, rather than speaking on what the college strives to offer.  Students walking to class, hanging out in the student center, or eating a meal in the main campus cafeteria present the college in a way that cannot always be captured in an View Book or on the school’s website. Student views, stories, and observations (people watching) add something to a campus visit that school recruiters, commercials, billboards, and watching HBCU football classics on BET or ESPN are not able to fully project: authenticity.

HBCU Trek to Stillman College during Thanksgiving Break 2013.

HBCU Trek to Stillman College during Thanksgiving Break 2013

The intangible authenticity provided by student interaction on a campus visit is priceless.  The recruitment staff, campus tour guides, print & broadcast college advertisements are all great ways to expose people to the existence of HBCUs, but I think any HBCU student, employee, or alum would agree that if you have the opportunity to step foot on the physical campus, you should take that chance.  That first step on an HBCU campus means more to the Black community than astronauts landing on the moon. The supposed “one giant leap” for mankind did not change much in daily lives of those living in Black neighborhoods; when a Black youth steps foot on an HBCU campus, however, their stories and experiences directly encourage their peers and bring pride to the elders of their communities.

HBCU Voyager with Oakwood University students at the OU bookstore

Photo from 2011 with Oakwood University students at the bookstore

Because of their often sub-par K-12 academic experiences and poverty-level socio-economic backgrounds, many HBCU students project a deep sense of gratitude and high level of self-efficacy that they attribute to their institution.  In essence, Black people in America go through a test every day, and by attending an HBCU African American youth are intentionally equipped with the tools, skills, and cultural capital necessary to survive life’s test with their heads held high; as a result, HBCUs are credited in most alums’ testimonies about how “they made it.”  I’ve found it to be an amazing experience to hear and receive these testimonies from the students while they are in the midst of receiving their psychological, intellectual, and oftentimes spiritual healing through their individual Black College Experiences.

HBCU Voyager with Concordia College student

Close-up with Concordia College student

A small group of  visited the campus of the first Black institution that developed into what we call HBCUs. Cheyney University of Pennsylvania is located outside of Philadelphia on land donated over a century ago by a farmer named Cheyney.  Settled in the small town of Chester, Cheyney is a quiet place surrounded by farm land and a growing housing development.
Carl and Casta at CheyneyCarl and JT at Cheyney
The campus is lined with light posts waving the banners of famous Cheyney alumni like Ed Bradley and former leaders of the institution. Walking the paved walkways on a self-guided tour, my colleagues and I stopped in the student center first and had lunch in the cafeteria. Inside we met students from Philadelphia and other parts of Pennsylavania who happily talked about their majors and reasons for attending Cheyney. Interestingly, the students we spoke with had both transferred in to the university from other colleges and were eager to take full advantage of the HBCU experience. After eating, we looked around the cafeteria at the large pictures of Black people dawning the walls and the student feedback/staff response forms posted near entrance. It was great to see how open the university was to student feedback and how they posted the  anonymous feedback with signed responses from the staff that directly addressed the students’ questions and comments.


Leaving the dining hall, The Yard was beginning to fill with the smells, sights, and sounds of student activity. A couple of student organizations were barbequing at their respective plots, one playing music from a portable sound system and another using the system from a car pulled up to the yard.  Beyond the bustle outside the modern campus center, the campus was quiet and distinctly historic. Most of the buildings near the yard were lined with stone resembling cottages of an earlier era. Further toward the outskirts of the campus, bricked academic buildings took on a more modern feel, and the sciences building stood out most of all with its aluminum casing, naturally filtered rainwater pond, and new greenhouse.

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My crew ended the tour at the library.  The main floor of the library featured student art, proclamations of Cheyney’s historic founding and its impact on higher education, as well as archival photos of early 19th century classes with some of Cheyney’s first students. Though it was a Sunday afternoon, there was a significant number of students in the library working on papers and reading. Upon leaving the library we marveled at the new residence center that was nearly the largest structure on campus, took pictures of our favorite spaces, and left the historic campus with a greater feeling of HBCU love and heritage.

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It was a good visit made even better by the fact that I was able to share it with my colleagues from the AERA Conference 2014, one of which had never toured an HBCU campus. How appropriate for the first HBCU campus tour to be of the first HBCU.

Carl Darnell – April 8, 2014
Insert pictures courtesy of Casta Guillome, Jeremy Snipes, and Carl Darnell

For more information about Cheyney, visit their website

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