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Envisioning Black Colleges

A History of the United Negro College Fund

Marybeth Gasman foreword by John R. Thelin

Publication Year: 2007

Etched into America's consciousness is the United Negro College Fund's phrase "A mind is a terrible thing to waste." This book tells the multifaceted story of the organization's efforts on behalf of black colleges against the backdrop of the cold war and the civil rights movement. Founded during the post–World War II period as a successor to white philanthropic efforts, the UNCF nevertheless retained vestiges of outside control. In its early years, the organization was restrained in its critique of segregation and reluctant to lodge a challenge against institutional and cultural racism. Through cogent analysis of written and oral histories, archival documents, and the group's outreach and advertising campaigns, historian Marybeth Gasman examines the UNCF’s struggle to create an identity apart from white benefactors and to evolve into a vehicle for black empowerment. The first history of the UNCF, Envisioning Black Colleges draws attention to the significance of black colleges in higher education and the role they played in Americans’ struggle for equality.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

Most American adults are familiar with the United Negro College Fund’s motto, “A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste.” Ironically, although that masterpiece of public relations has worked its way into our national consciousness, I imagine few Americans know much about the background and workings of the United Negro College Fund since its founding in 1944. ...

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pp. xv-xvii

In 2001, I was writing an article about racial stereotyping used in fundraising campaigns at black colleges. However, I had little success because the archival papers for the organization that I was examining, Marts and Lundy, turned up dry. In a moment of desperation, I called Kenneth W. Rose at the Rockefeller Archive Center ...

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INTRODUCTION: A Time for Innovation and Change

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pp. 1-10

As I wrote this book, the nation was in the midst of commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s proclamation, in Brown v. Board of Education, that separate was indeed unequal. I witnessed the media, cities, and universities speaking out in celebration of this historic event. At the same time, I heard voices from various segments of the African American community ...

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CHAPTER 1 Black Colleges and the Origins of the United Negro College Fund

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pp. 11-32

From the time of their forced arrival in North America, black people have thirsted for knowledge and viewed education as the key to freedom.1 In the South under the cruel subjugation of slavery and the unfair imposition of the laws that forbade them to read and write, African Americans nonetheless pursued their education.2 In the North just prior to the Civil War ...

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CHAPTER 2 Bringing the Millionaires on Board

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pp. 33-68

In 1944, John D. Rockefeller Jr., the seventy-year-old son of billionaire oil magnate John D. Rockefeller Sr. and Laura Spelman Rockefeller, led the hugely influential Rockefeller Foundation and General Education Board. With millions invested in areas ranging from medical research to international human welfare to higher education to historic preservation, the Rockefeller family held enormous sway over many fields of public endeavor at that time. Committed to black ...

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CHAPTER 3 Flirting with Social Equality: New York’s Elite Women Raise Funds

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pp. 69-85

At the same time that John D. Rockefeller Jr. was working with white male leadership across the country, another fund-raising arm of the United Negro College Fund—the New York Women’s Division— mobilized. Beginning in 1944, under the direction of Betty Stebman, several wealthy white women began to raise funds for black colleges to create a “parallel power structure.”1 This was precisely ...

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CHAPTER 4 A Stigma of Inferiority: The Effect of Brown v. Board

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pp. 86-118

In spite of the immediate euphoria of the Brown decision outlawing legalized segregation, black leaders and presidents of the member colleges of the United Negro College Fund understood that this critical point in history could bring drawbacks as well as benefits to black higher education.1 If integration was now mandated by law, what was the purpose of a black college? Was it desirable for black ...

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CHAPTER 5 Responding to the Black Consciousness Movement

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pp. 119-137

With the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Movement reached a peak, and momentum toward integration was gaining. Yet at the same time, enrollment at black colleges, both public and private, was also reaching record levels; one hundred thousand black students were attending college.1 The changes brought by civil rights legislation offered relief ...

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CHAPTER 6 Speaking Out on Behalf of Black Colleges

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pp. 138-166

As a result of the stigma placed on all-black environments in the post-Brown era (that is, in a time when all-black necessarily equaled inferior), during the mid-to late 1960s, scholars and foundation officials placed black colleges under a microscope. Instead of passively accepting this white scrutiny and the white influence within the UNCF chain of command, the UNCF’s black leaders assumed positions of greater authority. ...

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CHAPTER 7 “A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste”

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pp. 167-194

Launched in the early 1970s to encourage Americans to support the UNCF, the slogan “A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste” has helped generate more than $2 billion for black colleges. The motto, unchanged for more than three decades, has become part of the American vernacular, much like Maxwell House’s “Good to the Last Drop” or Nike’s “Just Do It!”1 In fact, many causes unrelated to black education use the phrase to demonstrate the importance of education. ...

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CONCLUSION: An Organization That No One Could Argue Against

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pp. 195-200

The United Negro College Fund, an institution whose main mission is to raise money, is therefore obligated to work with whomever is currently in power in the United States. Moreover, corporations in large part continue to support the UNCF. In the first three decades of its existence, important changes occurred in both the Fund’s operations and its public messages. ...


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pp. 201-213


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pp. 215-259


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pp. 261-269

E-ISBN-13: 9780801891854
E-ISBN-10: 080189185X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801886041
Print-ISBN-10: 080188604X

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 26 halftones, 3 line drawings
Publication Year: 2007