“HBCU” | A Poem by Terry E. Carter, Fisk ’80

Fisk University Jubilee Hall


The Freedmen’s Bureau and other concerns,
provided for that
which a black man yearned.
Degrees which only coloreds could earn…
Classrooms where only Negros could learn…
At times, in the places where crosses burned.
Started in churches
and normal schools—
mindful of bigots,
haters, and fools.

Money raised in a thousand ways…
from collection buckets,
to Jubilee days…
Singers that traveled
all over the globe—
returning their proceeds
to build beyond probes…

Probes of family pedigree.
Probes of social registry.
Probes of right ethnicity.
Probes of privileged legacy.

Education and a chance to hope—
at places where brown skin could easily cope.
DuBois even called them the talented tenth.
They’d never give up, never relent…
worth every penny of scholarship spent—
every tin nickel, every red cent.

Bootstraps and philanthropy,
character and integrity…
often Christian fellowship,
was added to their college trip.
When no other school or institution,
would honor Black men with resolution
of Jim Crow’s racial destitution.

The army would come to integrate
college in the Southern state,
beyond racism, exclusion or hate…
yet couldn’t make the road quite straight.

Thus, negro schools would elevate—
with only the heart to educate….
with only a mind to innovate…
with wisdom to inoculate.

Tiny rooms or ivy-clad walls—
a vision and a duty called,
scholars and teachers in hallowed halls
to act in the interests
of brown-skinned brothers,
sons and heirs of Negro mothers,
kin of far less fortunate others.

Great are the names of those hallowed halls.
Long is the roster that history calls.
More than a few are listed here…
Did you go to this one—
or the one over there?

Fisk, Tuskegee and Tougaloo—
Spelman, the “House”, and Hampton too…
Howard, the land grant in greater DC,
Two Lincolns, a Langston, and A & T…
St. Aug’s, Lane, and Benedict College,
dispensing historical brown-skinned knowledge.

Dozens of quality institutions…
legacy-bound by black resolutions—
there for the daughters of slavery’s pain,
there for the sons of freedom’s refrain.

The United Negro College Fund,
scholarships given, victories won…
“The mind is a terrible thing to waste.”
Black college life,
here’s a bit of a taste—

Sorority rush and fraternity row…
Many would pledge, many said no.
Deltas and Kappas and AKA’s,
Nasty Q dawgs and their scandalous ways…
Alpha Phi Alpha, the black and gold,
summoned the best, both bright and bold.
Zetas, Phi Betas, and Gamma Rhos…
Many would pledge, many said no.

Campus steppers and beautiful queens—
scholar-athletes arrived on the scene.
They knew our struggle.
They heard our voice.
Even as times changed,
they made this choice.

Not always perfect,
they made mistakes.
Still they must do,
whatever it takes—
to hold up a wonderful legacy,
extending the black college family tree.

So many tales these walls could tell,
of luminaries that answered the bell.
They rose above a nation’s bid,
to keep its black sons and daughters hid.

Folks with the soul of poetry,
words that set the brown mind free…
heroes for all the world to see,
Thurgood Marshall and Nikki G.
Oprah, Ralph Ellison,
and W.E.B.

Ida B. Wells and
James Weldon Johnson
shared this bloodline too—
rising above the hate and pain
to write for folks like you.

There were special brothers
with special names,
like Langston Hughes
and “Chappie” James.
They called Doug Williams “quarterblack”—
a Super Bowl winning quarterback…
He was the first of a talented pair.
Alcorn State gave us Steve McNair.

Sisters created great stories too.
Bessie Coleman majestically flew,
from Langston College
to the skies of blue.
A female pilot, who lit the lamp—
emblazoned on a postage stamp.
And before Serena took Wimbledon,
FAMU’s Althea also won.

Alex Haley created deep “Roots”,
while Andrew Young wore power suits.
More heroes than fit in the lines of this poem—
Black college seeds, in rich, fertile loam.

Jerry Rice and Rosa Parks…
One called the GOAT, the other the spark.
He was the NFL’s all-time best.
She stood up to the Jim Crow test—
that started a Civil Rights symphony,
and led to the nation’s epiphany.
Joined by James Farmer and Benjamin Hooks—
all of them schooled in black college books.

More than a brown-skinned brother can know.
Like Wilma Rudolph—
now that girl could go.
Walter Payton, the one they called “Sweetness”…
but still so far from a list of completeness.

I’ll not be able to name them all here—
such greatness salting the atmosphere.
Perhaps I’ll end with this worthy one—
Hampton’s Booker T. Washington.
Much is included in his legacy,
like starting the Institute, Tuskegee.

Such are the sons…
and such are the daughters…
that crossed the burning sands,
and sailed the danger waters.
I wrote this poem without such risk.
My craft, like many, was honed at Fisk.

We did it for community—
so many others too…
creating a singular unity.
We do it today—
at the HBCU.

“HBCU” from the soon-to-be published new book, “Brown Skin and the Beautiful Faith: A Poet’s Reflection” by Terry E.Carter, ©January 2014, Use prohibited, except by permission.

Terry CarterA Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude 1980 graduate of Fisk University, Terry E. Carter is an author, an artist, a teacher, a husband, a father, and an arts minister. He also completed a graduate fellowship in mass communications at Boston University. He is a seasoned relationship manager and corporate trainer and has worked for many years in the sales, HR, and career development fields. He is now finishing the pre-work and editing of his second book of poetry “Brown Skin and the Beautiful Faith: A Poet’s Reflection.” It’s the middle volume in a trilogy and follows his first published work “Brown Skin and the Bread of Life: A Poet’s Journey.” Follow him on Twitter at @brownskinndpoet.