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

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

The identify has been extolled by former college students, comparable 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 at all times 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 largely 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 Occasions tried to seek 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, was nonetheless a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.

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

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

It appeared intriguing to me as a longtime admirer of Malcolm X – and likewise as one who made the pilgrimage to the unique Mecca in Saudi Arabia, as Malcolm famously did in 1964. Nonetheless, as a veteran training author with an in depth historical past of protecting traditionally Black schools and universities – together 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 Occasions mentioned concerning the time period rising after the dying 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 getting into a brand new period. Its new president, Ben Vinson III, a number one scholar on the historical past of the African diaspora, took the helm on the storied college on Sept. 1, 2023.

Due to a five-year, US$90 million Division of Protection contract, the college lately grew to become the primary HBCU to accomplice with the Pentagon to conduct analysis in army expertise.

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

Going method again

Named after certainly one of its founders, Union normal and Civil Battle hero Oliver Otis Howard, the college opened in 1867 and was established by way 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 instructed 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 unique digital archive: Digital Howard. There, I did a easy seek for the time period “Mecca” and received greater than 400 outcomes, together with the one from 1909.

The that means of ‘The Mecca’

By means of my analysis, I found that through the years “The Mecca” has been utilized in alternative ways. It’s most frequently meant to protect Howard’s popularity 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 turn out to be the Mecca, towards which the eyes of our youth will instinctively flip,” Mitchell wrote within the Howard College Journal.

On this 1900 picture, the outside of Founders Library is seen at Howard College in Washington, D.C. Bettmann/GettyImages

“In reality,” 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 schools and universities, making Howard second solely to Spelman Faculty, an HBCU for ladies, situated in Atlanta, in keeping with the journal.

Mitchell’s reference was not the one one. A number of years later, in a 1913 version of the Howard College Journal, an article acknowledged:

“Howard is a strategic establishment. She is “The Mecca” of upper training attended in principal by Negro youths. … She instructions the curiosity of multitudes of individuals all through the land and provides 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 aware of 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 actual HU.” My analysis reveals there might 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 keeping with a 1910 Howard manuscript titled “A Trip with Booker T. Washington.”

College students attend an meeting at Hampton Institute in January 1899. Hulton Archive/Getty Photos

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 may’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 continually shifting and continues to shift to today.

The Mecca of the longer term

Regardless of archival information that present Howard was known 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 can be a becoming tribute to certainly one of 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 way in which for what in the present day is named Black Historical past Month.

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