Southern University A&M College: A light of hope for African Americans post-Reconstruction

Southern University provided a light of hope for African Americans after the Civil War

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - There’s something truly special about Historically Black College and Universities, particularly Southern University in Baton Rouge.

Over the last few years, these traditionally African American schools, or HBCUs, have been highlighted in music videos, documentaries, and parades all over the country.

But beyond the glitz and glamour of the HBCU experience, there is a strong history rooted in the foundation and these great institutions.

“Southern’s birth came after reconstruction and was right after the Civil War when the South had to be rebuilt because of the devastating impact of the war. So, after the end of Reconstruction there was change taking place nationally, locally,” Dr. Charles Vincent, Southern University history professor told WAFB’s Donovan’s Jackson.

There were many roadblocks ahead for African Americans in the south as they began working towards a better future. One of those blocks was limited access to education.

“A better education meant a way of supporting their families, supporting their communities, and bringing the skills back that could improve their communities,” Vincent said.

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State officials at the time like P.B.S Pinchback, Louisiana’s first black Governor, and state legislator T.T. Allain helped move the fight for a black university forward.

“They wanted something in law in the state constitution, in the state legislature acts, that would provide higher education for persons of color. Southern university emerged out of the constitution invention of 1879. It was charted by the legislature in 1880. It began classes shortly thereafter,” Vincent explained.

This was the beginning of the Southern University System, made up of five schools. It is the only remaining HBCU system in the nation. The first campus opened in New Orleans. It was not until 1914 that the main campus opened its doors in Scotlandville.

“These institutions have been the bridges that have brought us over. Physicians and restaurant owners, there were business leaders and others who were touched by Southern University. Southern, as FG Clark said, he called it the Soul Mother. Some would argue it is the soul mother of the middle class,” Vincent said.

For more than a century, Southern University and other HBCU’s have been the foundation for success for blacks in the United States.

However, the HBCU experience is more than just schoolwork. From the football games to the band performances, to the dancing dolls there is always entertainment on campus.

"We were doing that years ago on the field with the marching 100, with the glamorous girls out front. Their names have changed; they probably weren’t the dancing dolls. They may have been the southern belles or the majorettes and things of that nature, but they have always been an aspect of the university. When looked at in terms of our talent, when looked at it in terms about contribution in culture and history. We have added something special to the mix,” Vincent said.

Today, HBCU’s have become a major part of mainstream entertainment. They have garnered the attention of celebrities like Beyoncé, the Jonas Brothers, Lizzo and many more. They have been included in national parades and sports halftime shows.

“These national exposures do wonders for their wanting to be part of the human jukebox and they’re wanting to come to Southern and experience what it’s like to be at an HBCU. It is great to see young students in the north and in the west to see us in a different light. Or indeed just to see us. That just shows you the seeds that were sewed are bearing fruit,” Vincent said.

The HBCU experience...it’s something you can’t find anywhere else. Baton Rouge is lucky enough to have one of the greatest HBCU’s in the nation, Southern University.

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