World View: HBCUs Have a Little-known History of Involvement in. International Development
by Joan Morgan
Historically Black colleges and universities have often been cast as second best institutions struggling to catch-up to traditionally white schools. But when it comes to their involvement in international development, HBCUs have long been leaders in the field, say some educators and federal officials.
In the area of research, for example, HBCUs can hold their own with any institution, declared David Rakes, coordinator of university programs at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
"The work that has been done for many years [by HBCUs] is powerful information that has somehow been lost," said Gloria Braxton, director of Southern University's Center for International Development Programs in Baton Rouge.
According to Braxton, the decades old Peace Corps program was modeled after Crossroads Africa, a once-flourishing HBCU exchange program founded by the Rev. James H. Robinson to promote international scholarship, foreign language proficiency, and cultural and racial understanding.
Black college presidents and faculty members were often the pioneers in the area of international development and they made the continent of Africa and other countries in the diaspora, the focus of their mission.
Tuskegee's Booker T. Washington helped pave the way because of his reputation as an international educator. Lincoln University (PA) also had a history of educating international students, many of whom became leaders of their governments such as Kwame Nkrumah, the first leader of independent Ghana.
The history of HBCU involvement with foreign development assistance programs began as early as the 19th century when 17 southern institutions became known as "Negro land-grant colleges." In 1872 Alcorn State University in Lorman, MS, became the first of these institutions, and today, through a consortium with Jackson State University and Tougaloo College, it remains active in the global arena by assisting with education, agricultural and science programs.
In 1899, the former Tuskegee Institute was invited by the German government (then colonial ruler of Togo in Africa), to teach cotton cultivation in Togo. The technique introduced by Tuskegee was so effective that it established a model for the rest of West Africa, said Dr. Suchet L. Louis, associate provost and director of the Office of International Programs at Tuskegee University. Tuskegee's work in Africa was the beginning of its long history of agricultural involvement on the continent.
Other colonial governments followed Germany and launched similar projects with HBCUs. A prototype of the Tuskegee program was later developed in Liberia by the historically Black Prairie View University and named the Booker T. Washington Vocational Institute.
"Most of the work the HBCUs have done has been in African countries in the development assistance area, and I think that is as it should be," Braxton said.
Southern University's first international program in Africa began in the 1960s with an assignment to teach language and cultural skills to more than 100 Peace Corp volunteers in French-speaking Gabon and Guinea.
Other programs at Southern have also included agriculture. One such research project conducted with farmers in Cameroon and Sierra Leone, was cited in the Congressional Record as one of the nation's most successful agricultural projects, Braxton said.
On the Horizon
International training and research projects led by HBCUs have mushroomed since their early days. The focus of many such programs have expanded beyond Africa and agriculture. European nations like the newly freed members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, are beginning to court Black-college experts. Alabama A&M University and Southern are two of the HBCUs eager to answer that call. University officials say they want to be among several U. …