Here, then, is the dilemma, and it is a puzzling one, I admit. No Negro who has given earnest thought to the situation of his people in America has failed, at some time in life, to find himself at these crossroads; has failed to ask himself at some time: What, after all, am I? Am I an American or am I a Negro? Can I be both? Or is it my duty to cease to be a Negro as soon as possible and be an American? If I strive as a Negro, am I not perpetuating the very cleft that threatens and separates Black and White America? 1
W.E.B. Du Bois
Before public higher education in the South was segregated by law, it was divided along racial lines by custom, educational necessity, race prejudice, and economic and class differences. Both segregation and desegregation provided legal answers to a basic educational problem: how best to meet the educational needs of black students separated from the mainstream of American life by centuries of slavery, oppression, and discrimination. Segregation exacerbated and, in part, obscured social and economic barriers between the races. Before segregation was imposed, and after it was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1954, black students were separated from whites by the inadequacy of their early schooling and the disadvantages of their second-class status in the American social order.
W.E.B. Du Bois appreciated the manifest paradoxes of the Negro's condition. For nearly forty years, until he resigned as editor of The Crisis, Du Bois wrote of the implicit conflict between the Negro's right to equality before the law and his need to develop the unique aspects of his own culture. The role of the Negro college stood at the heart of this dilemma. Although no Negro spokesman of his generation more insistently demanded legal equality, Du Bois also saw the Negro college as the training ground of race leadership and