Strange Bedfellows and HBCUs: The Politics Behind the Black College Act

By Blakey, William "Bud" | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, August 20, 2009 | Go to article overview

Strange Bedfellows and HBCUs: The Politics Behind the Black College Act


Blakey, William "Bud", Diverse Issues in Higher Education


An insider captures the behind-the-scene events that led up to the passing of the Historically Black College and University Act.

Michael A. Tongour was a legislative assistant in the office of Sen. Stram Thurmond (R-S.C.). Tongour was a hard worker, who like me, was new to the U.S. Senate - and seemed unaware of his boss' checkered history in the African-American community. That history was largely due to his Dixiecrat background, including his walking out of the 1948 Democratic Convention due to a civil rights plank in the party platform about equal treatment for Black Americans in the military. There were also persistent rumors, later confirmed, about him having a Black daughter in the Orangeburg, S.C., area.

It was Thurmond's annual task to get the Senate to adopt a resolution identify- ing a certain week, and later September, as "Black College Month," usually coinciding with the annual conference of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Col- leges and Universities. Sure as clockwork, Tongour showed up in late August 1985 with his Senate resolution seeking the sig- nature of my boss, Sen. Paul Simon, on Thurmond's resolution. Tongour's arrival provided a great opportunity - the one I had been seeking to secure some bipartisan support for Simon's effort's to move his Historically Black College and University Act bill in the Senate.

As a recently elected senator from Illinois and a member of the minority Democratic Party at that time, Simon had little clout on the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee. Sens. Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy of Massachusetts and Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island occupied the positions of leadership on the Democratic side. Sen. Robert T. "Bob" Stafford of Vermont was committee chair and Sen. Dan Quayle of Indiana was a key leader on education and job-training issues for the Republicans. I knew I needed help, and there were few members of the Labor and Human Resources Committee with HBCUs in their states. South Carolina was one of them.

After agreeing to have Simon sign on Thurmond's resolution, I told Tongour, "If your boss really wants to do something meaningful for the HBCUs, you shouJd get him to co-sponsor Paul's bill amending Tide III of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to provide funding for the HBCUs!" Tongour responded, "Get me a draft of Sen. …

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