The untold story of how Howard College got here to be often called ‘The Mecca’

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The untold story of how Howard College got here to be often called ‘The Mecca’

When you ask nearly anybody at Howard College what’s the opposite title for his or her faculty, they’ll readily let you know: “The Mecca.”

The title has been extolled by former college students, akin to acclaimed creator Ta-Nehisi Coates, who wrote in his 2015 guide “Between the World and Me” that his “solely Mecca was, is, and shall all the time be Howard College.”

However ask anybody within the Howard group how and when the college got here to be often called The Mecca – a query I’ve been researching for the previous 12 months – and clean stares are principally the response.

Vice President Kamala Harris, then a U.S. senator, speaks at Howard College in 2019.
Manuel Balce Ceneta for the Related Press

In a 2019 article, The New York Instances tried to search out the origins of the usage of the time period for Howard when U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, one of many faculty’s most well-known alumnae, turned Joe Biden’s selection for a operating mate.

Greg Carr, an affiliate professor of Africana Research at Howard College, instructed the newspaper that the time period “emerged after the Civil Rights Motion.”

“Within the wake of the loss of life of Malcolm X and within the spirit of the Black Energy motion, college students started to informally consult with the campus as ‘The Mecca of black schooling,’” wrote Bianca Ladipo.

It appeared intriguing to me as a longtime admirer of Malcolm X – and in addition as one who made the pilgrimage to the unique Mecca in Saudi Arabia, as Malcolm famously did in 1964. Nonetheless, as a veteran schooling author with an in depth historical past of protecting traditionally Black faculties and universitiestogether with Howard – I made a decision to dig deeper. My efforts weren’t in useless.

A brand new period

Utilizing Howard College’s digital archives, I found that one of many earliest documented references to “The Mecca” is discovered within the Feb. 26, 1909, version of the Howard College Journal, a student-run publication. This was – opposite to what The New York Instances mentioned concerning the time period rising after the loss of life of Malcolm X in 1965 – practically 15 years earlier than he was even born.

My discovering comes at a time when Howard, situated in Washington, D.C., is coming into a brand new period. Its new president, Ben Vinson III, a main scholar on the historical past of the African diaspora, took the helm on the storied college on Sept. 1, 2023.

Because of a five-year, US$90 million Division of Protection contract, the college just lately turned the first HBCU to associate with the Pentagon to conduct analysis in army expertise.

The college can also be on a quest to achieve R-1 standing. R-1 is a classification degree reserved for universities that grant doctoral levels and still have “very excessive analysis exercise.”

Going method again

Named after one in all its founders, Union common and Civil Battle hero Oliver Otis Howard, the college opened in 1867 and was established by means of an act of Congress.

Its founders envisioned Howard as a college for educating and coaching Black physicians, academics and ministers from the practically 4 million newly freed slaves.

Malik Castro-DeVarona, a political science main and a former president of the Howard College Chess Membership, unwittingly helped me uncover how the college got here to be often called “The Mecca.” He urged that I look within the digital archive for The Hilltop, the campus newspaper co-founded in 1924 by novelist Zora Neale Hurston.

In my on-line search, I found a special digital archive: Digital Howard. There, I did a easy seek for the time period “Mecca” and acquired greater than 400 outcomes, together with the one from 1909.

The which means of ‘The Mecca’

By means of my analysis, I found that over time “The Mecca” has been utilized in other ways. It’s most frequently meant to protect Howard’s fame as a beacon of Black thought.

That first reference from February 1909 got here in an article written by J.A. Mitchell, a pupil who referred to Howard as a possible Mecca for younger Black college students. Particularly, Mitchell wrote: “Howard certainly bids nicely to develop into the Mecca, towards which the eyes of our youth will instinctively flip,” Mitchell wrote within the Howard College Journal.

A black-and-white image shows a large building with a clock tower.
On this 1900 picture, the outside of Founders Library is seen at Howard College in Washington, D.C.
Bettmann/GettyImages

“Actually,” Mitchell continued, “it appears as if the current outlook already forecasts a brand new period within the historical past of our faculty and tells of a future Howard, located on a hill overlooking the nationwide capital, that’s second to no establishment of its type.”

That assertion was prophetic. In its 2022 rankings, U.S. Information and World Report ranked Howard as No. 2 amongst traditionally Black faculties and universities, making Howard second solely to Spelman School, an HBCU for ladies, situated in Atlanta, in line with the journal.

Mitchell’s reference was not the one one. Just a few years later, in a 1913 version of the Howard College Journal, an article said:

“Howard is a strategic establishment. She is “The Mecca” of upper schooling attended in predominant by Negro youths. … She instructions the curiosity of multitudes of individuals all through the land and offers impetus to the lifetime of hundreds of alumni and alumnae. Once more, she nurtures fifteen hundred choose youths of a race.“

A distinct Mecca?

Anybody conversant in the tradition at Howard is aware of there’s a long-standing rivalry between Howard College and Hampton College, situated in Hampton, Virginia, over which faculty is ‶the true HU.” My analysis reveals there may need as soon as been a debate over which faculty is “The Mecca” as nicely.

When Booker T. Washington arrived at Hampton in 1872 – 5 years after Howard College was based in 1867 – Hampton, Virginia, was often called the “Mecca of the bold coloured youth of the dismantled South,” in line with a 1910 Howard manuscript titled “A Journey with Booker T. Washington.”

Scores of Black students are standing in rows for a school assembly.
College students attend an meeting at Hampton Institute in January 1899.
Hulton Archive/Getty Photographs

Hampton isn’t the one U.S. metropolis to be often called a Black Mecca.

As famous in a 1925 version of “The Disaster” – the NAACP journal based in 1910 by W.E.B. DuBois – Washington, D.C., was “considered the Mecca of the American Negro, for right here he’s beneath the wing of the eagle and might’t be made the sufferer of hostile laws or guidelines.”

Across the similar time, Alain Locke, who taught English and philosophy at Howard within the early 1910s and began the college’s philosophy division, proclaimed Harlem because the “Mecca of the brand new Negro.” Locke is often known as the “dean of the Harlem Renaissance.”

The purpose is this concept of a Black Mecca was consistently shifting and continues to shift to at the present time.

The Mecca of the longer term

Regardless of archival data that present Howard was referred to as The Mecca as early as 1909, different particulars have but to be found. Maybe beneath the management of President Vinson, a champion of digital scholarship, Howard college students and students can proceed to analysis how Howard got here to be often called The Mecca.

Doing so could be a becoming tribute to one in all Howard’s most illustrious deans, Carter G. Woodson.

Hailed because the “father of Black historical past,” Woodson launched Negro Historical past Week in 1926. That paved the best way for what in the present day is named Black Historical past Month.


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