The War on HBCUs (Their inconvenient continued existence)


Historically Black Colleges and Universities; they only ever existed because America didn’t want black men and women to attend colleges (or any schools) with their children. Well before the end of slavery, the Institute for Colored Youth was founded in Cheney, PA in 1837. It later became the Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, recognized as the nation’s first HBCU. It was a Quaker philanthropist, Richard Humphreys, who bequeathed $10,000 to found the school to educate those of African descent. Specifically preparing them to carry the torch and become teachers. Lincoln University of Pennsylvania came along in 1854 and was the first degree-granting HBCU. Wilberforce in Ohio joined them in 1856 and was the first college run by African-Americans. Wilberforce, Ohio was a stop along the underground railroad. Its goal was to be an intellectual mecca and a refuge from ignorance.

The first wave of HBCU’s was founded by black churches along with the American Missionary Association (AMA). AMA spending during and after the Civil War far exceeded that of the government’s Freedmen’s Bureau who they worked with sometimes. Among the schools founded between 1865–1867, were Atlanta University, Fisk University, Hampton University, Dillard University, and Howard University. The 2nd Morill Act of 1890 forced states (mostly Southern) to provide land grants for black schools when admission was not allowed otherwise. In other words, states that refused to de-segregate had so set aside some space to educate black students and at least pretend they cared about black kids too. That Act is how we got Tuskeegee University, Alabama A&M Univerity, Florida A&M, Fort Valley State, Kentucky State University, Maryland Eastern-Shore, Alcorn State, North Carolina A&T, and Langston University among others. You could make the case that the purpose of the 2nd Morill Act was as much to preserve segregation as educate black students, there’s no question it did both.

With the exception of those who didn’t want black people to exist at all in this country, perhaps anywhere. Most white people didn’t mind the existence of HBCUs. Though there was that time that Wilberforce was destroyed by arson in 1865 (they rebuilt). There was also the time police shot and killed two student demonstrators at South Carolina State in February 1968. Say the names of Samuel Ephesians Hammond, Jr., Delano Herman Middleton, and Henry Ezekial Smith. The white students killed at Kent State are in the history books, the black students at Jackson State not so much. For the most part, however, black colleges tended to be left alone as long as they didn’t make too many waves. The power structure had another way to keep HBCUs in check… money.

Of the ten largest HBCUs by enrollment; nine are state schools including North Carolina A&T, Texas Southern, Florida A&M, Prarie View A&M, and Jackson State. These schools are generally dependant on their state legislatures to dole out funds. Always to a lesser degree than their white counterparts. Some are under pressure to merge with other state schools. Tennessee State University was forced by a judge into a shotgun wedding with another Nashville school; UT-Nashville, in 1979. Albany State University merged with Darton State College in 2017. Each case saw an HBCU merge with a predominantly white institution (PWI) with the thought the HBCU would maintain its name and identity. A new proposal would see Albany State, Savannah State, and Fort Valley State, all merged into one institution to be called Georgia A&M and run apart from the University of Georgia system. It sounds like… exactly like separate but equal and we all know how well that one worked.

Private schools have their own pressures, always seeking to raise the funds to stay in operation. Chief among their pressures is the need to stay accredited and thus able to receive federal and state funds and the students/parents eligible for Pell grants and student loans. As most HBCUs are located in the South. The vast majority are accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools; one of six groups approved by the Dept. of Education (Betsy DeVos). One can only imagine what pressures the US Government might exert on its standards for accreditation.

Even when schools meet accreditation standards. There’s always the chance the government will fail to fund them anyway. Funding for HBCUs expired on October 1, 2019, and Congress appears to be in no hurry to restore it. Democrats want to go with a two-year fix while working on a comprehensive review while Republicans want to offer permanent funding as long as multiple measures affecting higher education are adopted. Both parties are playing chicken with HBCUs in the middle.

HBCUs have always been under attack whether physical or financial. More people are questioning the need for their continued existence, given we’ve overcome the racism of the past. A closer look would reveal that the racism of the past hasn’t disappeared, the names simply change. Slavery became the Black Codes, which became Jim Crow, which splintered off into multiple other forms of oppression with the one constant throughout being voter suppression. HBCUs have been affected by this with some campuses being split into different districts in order to dilute their voting strength.

HBCUs have always done more with less. In addition to their output measured in doctors, lawyers, teachers, and scientists. Black colleges produce black leaders. We just lost Elijah Cummings (Morgan State), Kamala Harris (Howard) is running for President, John Lewis (Fisk) is the conscience of the House of Representatives. For all I could name, there are hundreds more coming to take their place. Much more than flashy bands, athletic teams, and drum lines. HBCUs hone the minds of those that attend, graduating critical thinkers who know their own worth. The war will continue, but HBCUs are up to the battle. No weapon formed against them will prosper. And mostly, the graduates of HBCUs give back and come back. Never forgetting from whence they came and not forgetting those who come after.

Hello Followers.

I’m starting a new publication that may not relate to some of you but others may find it very relevant to their life experience. It’s called, “The HBCU Chronicles,” in which the stories will be somehow relevant to HBCUs. The story may involve a Historically Black College or former student. Some will be about that life which universally involved long registration lines, bad food, and professors that truly cared.

I’m also looking for writers/contributors because if you went to an HBCU. I’ll bet you have a story to tell. If you have something you’d like to add. Send me a note or email me at spiveywilliamf@gmail.com and I’ll add you as a writer. Thanks!

William Spivey

The 73–74 Fisk Bulldogs Enter the Athletic Department Hall of Fame


I’m writing this story both as an insider and an outsider. I was a freshman on the team that went 26–4, finished as SIAC Conference Co-Champions, won the SIAC Tournament and made it to the Regional Finals of the Division II NCAA Tournament. Everything that happened that season was completely outside my experience coming from Minneapolis, MN. My high school had a losing record (though they won the State Tournament two years after I left). My high school was maybe 15% black, while at Fisk, I could name the two white students that attended during my tenure, Shawn and Snow.

I hadn’t intended on playing basketball at Fisk. I got there because I scored well on standardized tests. I was offered scholarships around the country. Somebody in my family who knew better than I pretty much shut down the conversation saying, “you’re going to Fisk!” After being in school a month, I was homesick and got to fly home for a weekend. Most of my old friends were doing the same things; hanging out at the park, chasing girls, drinking beer, or discussing one of the above. I didn’t even spend the whole weekend with them, I stayed close to home with family, ready to go back, homesick no more.

My mother brought me to Fisk. We somehow had hotel reservations in Madison, TN a good way from the Fisk campus. I remember we were ordering breakfast, the middle-aged white waitress walked over smiling, “Can I help y’all?,” in what I thought was the most exaggerated Southern accent I’d ever heard. I later learned that was the norm. When the cab dropped us off at New Livingston dormitory. We went to the enclosure across from the lobby that served as the greeting station. While my mother and I were checking in, there were several members of the football team draped all over the lobby furniture. They had arrived days earlier and appeared tired from practice. At the time I was 6’6″ and 217 lbs. I heard a voice, “Look at him, big ol’ sissy, I bet he don’t play nothin’.” I think the player was Dirty Red but I’ll never know for sure.

A hundred yards from my dorm was the Henderson A. Johnson Gymnasium. I’d been playing basketball half my life so it was natural to go there after classes and join in the pick-up games. It didn’t take long before I was asked if I was going out for the team. I discovered the fundamentals I’d been taught by Coach Prohofsky in high school traveled well. Playing against some of the returning players gave me the confidence I could hang.

Three weeks prior to the official opening day of practice, those trying out were required to run three miles each morning to the Buckman Bridge. There’s a metal plate on the bridge that reads, “Built by Virginia Bridge and Iron Co. 1917.” We’d run to the bridge, touch the plate, then turn around and run back to campus. Freshman rookies like myself thought there was some correlation between how fast we ran and future success on the team. A fellow from Boston, Charles Woodson, would win the race every single day. The veteran players had no interest in racing, just finishing as Coach Ron Lawson cruised up and down the route in his Camaro, presumably making sure who was there.

I don’t recall if it was the first day of regular practice but it wasn’t long before the weight jackets came out. Approximately 25 lb. vests which we wore every moment of practice from beginning to end. Coach Lawson’s game plan required everyone to be in shape. We employed a full-court press from the opening tip until the end of the game unless the score got so ridiculous he’d ease up on the other team.

There were three things about that 73–74 team I came to appreciate more and more each successive year. We had two senior guards, Dick Gold and Freddie Lewis, who had played together for four years. They were listed in the program at 5’10” and 5’8″ and both may have been exaggerations. They were tough as nails and did whatever was required to win unselfishly. They could score a bunch if that’s what we needed. There was a game against Stillman where they each scored thirty points.

They typically got a tremendous number of steals in our pressing defense, ran the offense, one or the other assisted on most of our scoring plays in the set offense. The week heading into the NCAA playoffs, with each approaching the end of their college careers. An article ran in the Nashville paper, “Who Were Those Guys?” featuring Dick and Freddie.

Freddie was quoted, “We’ve been playing together for these four years and we knew what to expect of each other. And that goes not only for the two of us but for Billy Hastings, Roy Jackson, and Ernest Crawford, too.” Dick added, “This team is a real unit. We know what to expect from each other and from the coach.

The second thing I appreciated was that we had seven players that averaged in double figures which is unheard of. Some of that was related to our press defense which generated a lot of lay-ups off steals. We averaged nearly 100 points a game and we looked forward to, “busting the clock” which wasn’t equipped to handle more than 99. I credit our balanced scoring to the decision making of Dick, Freddie, and Corwyn Hodge who is to date the fastest player I’ve ever seen on the court. Dick Gold said, “We’re not supposed to be the primary scorers. We get things started and let the big guys like Billy Hastings, Ernest Crawford, Kit Floyd, Stephen Lee or Bill Spivey do the scoring.”

The third thing and most intangible was the leadership. Dick was mostly quiet but whenever he spoke people paid attention. Freddie was always keeping us focused on what we needed to do. I was the baby of the group at 17 throughout most of the season. It was Roy (Pops) Jackson who kept challenging me to concentrate on team goals and not my own. Billy Hastings also adopted me calling me “son.” The following season I got a “son” of my own, carrying on the tradition.

This was a team that was genuinely happy at the success of any individual on the squad. We laughed at each other but mostly with each other. It was a group of men that genuinely loved each other. I talked to Roy Jackson the other day and all that love is still there. It will be great to be in a room with most of them again one more time at our Hall of Fame induction.

To those who know, some parts of the story were left out. The Daytona/Atlanta trip which led to Coach Lawson banning fans traveling with the team ever again. We went from 16–1 to 16–3 over the course of two nights but between the beach and the “Brass Monkey,” I can’t recall a better time. There was the time we were in Knoxville and had our pre-game meal at a Morrisons Cafeteria, eating a ridiculous amount because Coach Lawson was at a meeting and not there to supervise us. We were so sluggish we were down by 20 points at halftime before coming back to win 120–100 once the food was digested.

Coach Lawson and Asst. Coach Kindell (M’dude) Stephens are no longer with us. Coach Lawson talked more trash than a little bit, having earned the right setting freshman records as a player at UCLA in the John Wooden years. He had high expectations and ran us until we were able to make them come true. Kindell had been a star Fisk player who’d been drafted by the Lakers. He was always there to talk to, making sure we stayed in shape and paid attention to our education. I’m sure when we players get together some stories will be told.

There are individual moments on the court that come back to me as if they just happened. The favorite involving me was a defensive play where I tracked down a ball going out of bounds near a baseline corner, I spun and threw it to a streaking Corwyn Hodge who scored on what seemed an impossible play. Our gym was small but we always rocked. There was a stretch of over four years we didn’t lose a home game.

Matthew Knowles with his two-handed high-arching shot that just floated through the nets. Steve Brown double and triple pumping in his New York style. There was a series where Kit Floyd got four consecutive offensive rebounds before putting in a lay-up while Coach Stephens kept recording the stats. Billy Hastings hitting jumpers from the corner. My favorite Stephen Lee moment didn’t involve one of our own games. We went down the street to see Tennessee State play Kentucky State. A KSU player, Billy Ray Bates dunked on three TSU players when you couldn’t even see the dunk coming. We were seated in the upper deck and Stephen Lee jumped up and screamed at the play, running down the steps to the lower section. Sam Gates who I often matched up against in practice, issued out more punishment than most opposing players. There was the time my roommate William Settle and I arrived in Chicago a day early for a Christmas tournament at Chicago Circle. We used the time to visit friends in Gary, IN and attended the West Side Basketball Tournament wearing new hats we knew were bad.

The favorite team moment had to be our second game in the NCAA Tournament. We faced Tennessee State after defeating James Madison in a play-in game for the right to play TSU. They rested while we played the night before. Their team featured All-American Leonard “Truck” Robinson who later played for the Knicks and led the NBA in rebounding one year. They were a much bigger school with taller players and heavily favored. We won 65–54 with Billy Hastings, Dick Gold, and Stephen Lee in double figures. Truck Robinson fouled out in the final few minutes, ending his college career other than he planned. The official attendance for that game was 5,428. I’ve met 10,000 people since then who swear they were there.

We lost our game the next night against the University of New Orleans. We were playing on our third consecutive night. I can’t speak for anyone else but I remember a play where my mind was willing to move over and cut someone off but the body wasn’t able. A week or so later we had a team banquet and got gold jackets. Perhaps a week after that, we had a team only party at Burrus Hall in which I learned bad things happen after drinking 16 short cans of “The Bull.” What I’ve never forgotten is how much that team and its players meant to me and how I’m looking forward to seeing them again.

The Value of an HBCU Education

Photo by George Cooper

“Education will set this tangle straight!” — W.E.B. DuBois

When I set foot on the campus of Fisk University, I knew almost nothing about HBCU’s in general or Fisk in particular. When in high school, I performed extremely well on the PSAT Test and was named a National Merit Semi-Finalist. I started receiving mail and offers from hundreds of colleges and universities across the nation. The ones I knew were mainly because of their football or basketball programs. Fortunately, someone in my family was familiar with Fisk and steered me in that direction.

I was well aware of what a Predominantly White Institution (PWI) looked like. In 7th Grade, I attended University High, a private high school associated with and on the campus of the University of Minnesota. It later merged with the public school, Marshall High to become Marshall-University High. I spent six years on the fringe of the University of Minnesota campus, then the largest in the nation. I went to Gopher sports events, our football team played home games in their stadium. But for Stan Humphries, I’d have drowned in the Olympic sized swimming pool in Williams Arena. Not sure I ever said thank you, Stan… thanks!

My friends and I went to “keggers” on the banks of the Mississippi River with U of M students. We joined in anti-war protests and carried signs. When in college and doing a summer internship in Cincinnati, I took a summer school class in Economics at Xavier. I’m not unfamiliar with PWI’s, but I’m so glad I went instead to Fisk.

I’m sure I can make the case that the education I got at Fisk was as good or better than any I could have gotten anywhere. While that’s true at Fisk, Morehouse, Howard, Spelman, Hampton, and others. It might not be universally true, it’s a claim I can’t document. What is universally true of every HBCU is that it gives one space to figure out what kind of black person you’re going to be. You get a four-year respite from being told how to be black, often by those who know nothing of it.

I happened to be on the Fisk basketball team which meant I got to visit dozens of HBCU campuses; Alabama State, LeMoyne-Owen, Stillman, Miles, Alabama A & M, Talladega, Savannah State, Fort Valley, Laine, Paine, and Morehouse among others. We visited PWI’s as well, that doesn’t make me an expert but does qualify me to have an opinion.

At an HBCU, in addition to caring professors, learning our history in addition to theirs. You come away with a sense of self not attainable at a Primary White Institution. Not that black schools turn out a bunch of clones that are black in the same manner. The graduates of HBCUs are as diverse a group as can be imagined, while the majority happen to be black, an increasing percentage of non-black students also attend HBCUs. During that partial time out from the rest of the world. You learn what the black experience has been for others; adopting some views and rejecting others while you determine how you yourself are going to be black. All the while not having to figure out as a teenager, how to fit into a situation where you’re not always embraced and often rejected.

HBCUs aren’t perfect. Almost universally there are complaints about long registration lines and poor cafeteria food. What they do offer is the chance to embrace everything about being black; the music, dancing, history, bid whist, along with encouragement to excel and lead. HBCUs reinforce the responsibility to give back to your community. HBCUs promote a love affair with blackness that doesn’t end upon graduation but lasts a lifetime. When you meet a fellow HBCU graduate at any point in your life thereafter, there is a bond. One that can be tested or broken based on the individual merits but you start out with something in common.

There’s a gospel song performed by John P. Key among others, the lyrics include:

You don’t know my story

You don’t know the things that I’ve been thru

You cannot imagine…

If you went to an HBCU, there’s a part of every graduate’s story you do know. There are commonalities including a willingness to help not only each other but an understanding we have to give back to our community and our institutions. There are those that question the ongoing need for HBCUs for whatever reason. I submit there is no other institution that serves in the same manner. As Prince might say, “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

Why HBCUs Are Like Wakanda, And Why We Need To Fight For Them!


Even more important than the fictional Wakanda sitting on a mountain of Vibranium, and having technology surpassing the rest of the world. It was a safe haven, where colonialism had taken no toll. Blackness was considered a gift and not a curse. Education was valued and excellence the norm. I submit that in America, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have served that purpose when the fictional Wakanda would not do.

I came to Fisk University from Minneapolis, MN where the high school I attended and the neighborhood I lived in were about 15% black. I crossed back and forth, in and out of worlds between my black church, white school, black family, white and black friends, being taught European history with the exception of one week when Toussaint L’Ouverture was taught every year along with singing the first two verses of the Negro National Anthem.

When I went off to Fisk and my mother and I landed in Nashville, we ate at a restaurant where the white waitress greeted us with what seemed the most exaggerated Southern accent I’ve ever heard, “Can I help, y’all?” That waitress was the last white person I saw for a month save for two white students at Fisk (hey Shawn and Snow) and several professors.


While Fisk was in the heart of the black community. It was still only a few miles from downtown in one direction and the younger Vanderbilt University in another. A mile down a different road was Tennessee State University which even then was fighting to save its identity and being forced to merge with a predominantly white institution, another State school.

At Fisk, my experience was being duplicated at more than a hundred other institutions in the nation. I was able to discover my identity rather than constantly adapting to multiple environments. Black history was expanded to include the Harlem Renaissance and Reconstruction and more than one black hero was allowed. We learned not only the politics of Martin but of Malcolm as well, and about the Freedom Riders including Fiskites Diane Nash and John Lewis. I needed only walk a block to buy a bean pie from a Muslim restaurant.


Because I played basketball, I was able to visit dozens of other HBCU campuses; Morehouse, Clark, Morris Brown, Alabama State, Miles, FAMU, Knoxville College, Lane, Stillman, Talladega, and Savannah State among others. They were all magnificent in their own ways and even with rivals, there was a commonality we understood and acknowledged. Some of those schools are no longer with us and others barely surviving.

When I came to Fisk at age 17, still in search of who I was. Many around me had no such uncertainty. They came knowing they wanted to be doctors, dentists, lawyers, teachers, musical artists, and scientists. They and I were given the support and encouragement to achieve our dreams and the respite from having to deal with racial identity on a daily basis. A disproportionate number of our leaders come from HBCUs which is not by accident but by design


The other benefit of attending an HBCU is that when you leave, there is a community of elders throughout the country, still extending a helping hand because you have had that same tribal experience. In the movie, one Wakandan could recognize another by exposing the underside of their lip. Fellow HBCU members recognize each other through their common experiences and histories. A loyalty exists that if you never attended an HBCU, you just wouldn’t understand. I was saying, “Fisk Forever,” long before I heard, “Wakanda Forever,” in the Black Panther movie. Because of my HBCU experience, I could identify with its meaning.


With Wakanda and its valuable resources now exposed to the world, it will come under attack from other nations and other forces in its fictional universe. HBCUs are under a real attack from a President and administration that wishes them ill, developers who want their land, and people who fail to understand the importance and relevance of HBCUs. We must fight for their continued existence in the same manner as Wakandans would fight for their nation. We need HBCUs now, more than ever before. Whatever your weapon be whether giving financially, volunteering, votes, or making your voice heard when the time comes. Fight for your HBCUs as if your children’s future depends on it. Their future just might.

Dr. Crystal A. deGregory: Shadow Warrior (Founder of HBCUstory)

Dr. Crystal A. deGregory is a product of one of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Fisk University. In full disclosure, I also attended Fisk University and while we weren’t there together and I’ve never met Dr. deGregory. We share an influence by and a love for the late Dr L.M. Collins , for which I will always appreciate her.

“Dr. DE” is a historian. Since she hit the yard at Fisk University in 1999, she was amazed not only its institutional history, but its “community of caring family and staff.” Every HBCU has a history and those who have made it their mission to mold future leaders and contribute to an ongoing legacy. Part of Crystal’s mission is to ensure that these stories be told. More importantly that the role of the HBCU never be minimized historically so that they will be respected and appreciated in the present and the future. She graduated Fisk in 2003 and went on to earn a Masters and PhD from Vanderbilt University, and a separate Masters of Education from Tennessee State University.

In addition to her passion for history. Crystal is active in the support of many causes. She is a Co-Host of Black Docs Radio  who’s tag line is, “More Than a Radio Show, It’s a Movement.” The show focuses on community involvement not limited to discussion but includes finding solutions. The program features a group of women “Doc’s” who use their power for good in support of programs like, Renewal House which provides services for women and families, Docs Donate Socks, and Docs Mentor which provides mentoring services to HBCU students.

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Photo: dinnerwithnerds.com

In 2012, Dr. deGregory founded HBCUstory. Part of its purpose is the “advocacy, initiative, preserving, presenting and promoting inspiring stories of the HBCU communities, past and present, for our future.” Their website currently is running features on Johnnetta B Cole-Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, former Morehouse President-Benjamin E. Mays, Transplant Surgeon-Sherilyn Gordon-Burroughs, and Basketball Coach- Ben Jobe among others.

In addition to telling warm stories about HBCU traditions and feel good anecdotes. They conduct the HBCU Symposium. The last of which was held Oct. 31-Nov. 1, 2016 on the campus of Paul Quinn College campus in Dallas, TX. Presented there was scholarly research and case studies documenting the relevancy of and historic and contemporary need for HBCUs. Presenters included Johnnetta B. Cole who has called Dr. deGregory, “young sister leader.”

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Crystal A. deGregory is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, she was named the 2014 HopeDealer of the Year, was a finalist for the 2015 HBCU Awards Alumna of the Year, and a Bishop Michael Eldon School 50th Anniversary Warriors Golden Jubilee honoree. She’s had published an editorial in the New York Times on, “Nashville’s Clandestine Black Schools,” been in many educational publications and written, HBCU Experience – The Book. Rumor has it she’s working on another book which will be awaited with baited breath.

I’ve somehow omitted that she’s proudly Bahamian. She’s truly an Ambassador for her native land when abroad. She often returns home to give back in her unique way. I encourage you to listen to her Grand Bahamian Ted Talk in which she discusses, “The Problem With What We Teach and Tell Young Girls.”  Dr. Crystal A deGregory is a true Shadow Warrior although it’s already debatable how much in the shadows she is. In many circles she’s already a star.

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I’ll end, not with my words but those of another. Friend, mentor and fellow Fiskite, Edie Lee Harris had this to say:

“I met Crystal online as she was about to defend her doctoral dissertation. We share a love for history, she as a professional, me in my armchair. She was at the 85-yard line in the phD program at Vanderbilt and was feeling the strain of it all and needed some encouragement to get to the goal. She really didn’t’ need help, just an ear and a cheerleader, and I was happy to oblige, having survived law school, and feeling her frustration with some who were obstructing her path.
At the time, I didn’t fully appreciate the magnitude a trail she was blazing a trail at Vandy. It wasn’t until she graduated that I she announced that she was in the first group of AAs to get her Doctorate in History at Vanderbilt. (She’s that kind of modest about what she’s achieved). Since then, I’ve watched her excel in her field across a wide spectrum of endeavors. I’ve witnessed as she’s her grown from a deep-fried doctoral student to a mover and shaker in her field. She brings her boundless energy and passion and analytical skills for her subject to anyone who will lend an ear, eye, or a brain. More than anyone else I know, she fiercely carries that torch lit by the legendary Fisk intellectuals of the past. For her, history is alive, and she has a unique ability to bring it alive for others. I’m proud to call her my friend and I really can’t wait to see what she does next.”
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Each month Enigma In Black will feature a new Shadow Warrior. Don’t miss one by scrolling down and clicking “Follow”. Please share so that we can bring these Warriors and their work out of the shadows! Would love to hear your suggestions for future Warriors which you can leave in the comments section.

Featured Photo: HBCUstory.org

Previous Warriors:

Sevgi Fernandez

The Wilson Academy

Kelly Hurst

The Day I Fought Muhammad Ali

 

 

Just a bit of poetic license because I never actually fought Ali although he did throw a punch at me. That may be a stretch too as he never intended to hit me because he surely could have done so had he meant to. Muhammad Ali came to visit Fisk University in 1975 and I was among many enthralled by his presence. He was admired not for being a champion. But for championing peace and non-violence. For taking a stand and not giving in to the pressure to bow down even though it temporarily cost him his belt and millions in earnings for doing so. He risked going to jail for his beliefs and it was the man and not the boxer that was cheered that day.

Ali in Jubilee Hall

He gathered around him in a circle, those of us who at least looked the most formidable. Football players, basketball players and other athletes. I told myself I was taller than he, my reach as long. But before any delusions of glory could manifest themselves, he threw a playful jab in my direction as he’d done others in the circle to demonstrate his quickness. It only registered that he’d thrown the punch after his fist was on its way back. I felt the wind against my jaw before my sight registered the arm behind the fist I never did see. My thoughts of boxing were permanently erased as I realized that there was a level to which I could only aspire.

Ali kiss at fisk

Ali eventually disappeared back into the limousine in which he appeared. Many got to chat with him and while I did not I have a memory that will last always. Muhammad Ali… the greatest. RIP!