Emancipation and Education

Dear Tulane Community:

Tomorrow we celebrate Juneteenth, the moment in our nation's history when the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution were extended to formerly enslaved African Americans. One of the primary goals of these newly freed Americans was to pursue the formal education that had been denied them, along with other basic freedoms, for so long.

In the decades following emancipation, schools became essential tools for advancement for African Americans and other people of color. Educators like Booker T. Washington, who founded Tuskegee University, established dozens of schools and higher education institutions devoted to providing Black Americans with educational opportunities. Following the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case, trailblazing students desegregated schools across the country, including here in Louisiana.

Among those students was Leona Tate, who received an honorary degree at this year's Unified Commencement ceremony. One of the first three Black students to enroll at McDonogh No. 19 in 1960, Tate went on to become a civil rights leader and educator. She also went on to purchase the very building that she desegregated. The former McDonogh No. 19 is now the Tate, Etienne and Prevost Center, an innovative mixed-use facility named in honor of the "McDonogh Three" that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Black Greek-letter organizations were founded to provide kinship and civic engagement opportunities for college and university students who were excluded from established Greek organizations due to their race. Five of these organizations united in 1930 to create the National Pan-Hellenic Council, a national umbrella organization for historically Black fraternities and sororities.

Today, the National Pan-Hellenic Council includes nine Black Greek-letter organizations, known affectionately as the Divine Nine. On the uptown campus, we are putting the finishing touches on the new NPHC plots, which offer Tulanians a space to reflect on the rich history of NPHC organizations and their crucial role in building a more welcoming and supportive environment for Black students in higher education.

Proposed by Tulane's Black Student Union and coordinated with an array of student organizations and leaders across the university, the NPHC plots echo similar spaces at a number of universities nationwide. This project joins a number of other university initiatives, from Tulane Trailblazers to the Tulane History Project, that carry forward the legacy of educators like Washington and Tate as we strive to embody our core values in our culture and our scholarship.

I encourage you to join me in reflecting on the important role of education in our civil rights history as you commemorate the Juneteenth federal and university holiday tomorrow. As a major research university, we hold tremendous potential to support our nation in its aspirations toward true "liberty and justice for all." I am grateful for the work that the Tulane community is doing every day to help us achieve this potential together.