Famous HBCU Alumni You Should Know About
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Marian Wright Edelman
- Langston Hughes
- Alice Walker
- Toni Morrison
It’s difficult to name just five famous graduates of historically black colleges because the list could easily hold a hundred names. The role of historically black colleges has continued into the 21st century, with a variety of new and emerging African American voices joining the national conversation. Here are five of the most famous people associated with these colleges and their contributions to society.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
One of the most famous graduates of a historically black college is none other than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights leaders whose efforts to create equality in America led to the civil rights bill passing Congress and being signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. King was born in 1929 in Georgia and attended Morehouse College before becoming a Baptist minister and activist. He is the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and is most famous for his “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the closing of the March on Washington. Even after his tragic death in 1968, King remains a symbol of civil rights in America.
Marian Wright Edelman
Marian Wright Edelman is best known for founding the Children’s Defense Fund and for being the recipient of the MacArthur Prize as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Edelman was born in 1939 in South Carolina and attended Spelman College. She completed her education by earning a Juris Doctor from Yale Law School and was the first African American woman to be admitted to practice law by the Mississippi Bar. She is one of the strongest voices advocating for equality for children; she has lobbied Congress to overhaul foster care, support adoption, and protect disenfranchised and disabled children.
Very few people are unaware of Langston Hughes, the poet who has served as the inspiration for many of today’s greatest African American poets and the leader of the Harlem Renaissance. Born in Joplin, Missouri, in 1902, Hughes went on to earn a degree from Lincoln University in 1929 after spending some years abroad. He spent the rest of his short life in Harlem, writing works based on the lives of working-class African Americans and their diverse cultures. He was a large influence on New York’s literary scene for the majority of his life and was a strong advocate for African Americans. Langston passed away in 1967 after complications from a surgery relating to a diagnosis of prostate cancer. Still, his influence can be felt even today, especially in the work of prominent African American authors, playwrights, and poets.
Alice Walker is best known to Americans as the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Color Purple. Born in 1944 in Georgia, Walker attended Spelman College in Atlanta on a full scholarship. Through a tragic summer prior to her senior year in college, Walker began writing poems to work through her depression and published Once, a book of her poems, in 1968. Walker is also an activist and has repeatedly given credit to a chance encounter with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with her start in activism. She is now known as a strong voice for the African American and feminist communities. Never one to back down from controversy, Walker is one of the biggest voices in American literature and remains an iconoclast to this day.
Another literary giant who graduated from a historically black college is Toni Morrison, who graduated from the prestigious Howard University in 1953 with a degree in English. She is a Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize-winning author, having penned books like Song of Solomon and Beloved, both of which are held in high regard today. Born in 1931 in Ohio, Morrison is now a professor emerita at Princeton University and head of the Toni Morrison Society, a non-profit organization that focuses on scholars and readers who study Morrison’s work. Morrison continues to be active, both in literary and academic circles and has over 30 books to her name.
Historically black colleges have had, and continue to have, a monumental impact on America. Without these colleges, voices of these talented men and women may have been lost. Now that you know about these five famous graduates of historically black colleges, we advise you to research more names; you’d be surprised who can name themselves as alumni of these prominent institutions.