Historically Black colleges and universities have served African-American communities for 150-plus years, but they are frequently underrepresented, according to filmmaker Stanley Nelson. Furthermore, he said, many stories are left untold in mainstream media.
Nelson is attempting to change that condition with a new film, Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities.
The film was shown Dec. 1 at Morgan State University inside the School of Global Journalism and Communication. In 2015, Nelson debuted the film The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution at Morgan.
His newest film chronicles the long, complex history of HBCUs and their impact on post-Civil War years and the days of the Civil Rights Movement. The director is touring HBCUs around the country as part of a multiplatform project called “HBCU Rising.” The goal is to drive dialogue inspired by the film among a variety of audiences.
Nelson told Dallasweekly.com that the tour is necessary because many people may not be aware of the vital histories of their institutions.
“Many students and even alumni are not aware of the deep history of how and why HBCUs were created and the foundation for success they provided for African-Americans,” he said.
On Nov. 27, Morgan State staged its Founders Day on the sesquicentennial date that the former training school for pastors was established. Five former slaves, said President David Wilson, in 1864 planted the seeds for the future Carnegie-level urban public research university he now leads. Morgan is distinguished among HBCUs – and many predominantly White campuses – for producing record numbers of Fulbright Scholars – 205 since 1952. Furthermore, 11 representatives from Nigerian universities attended the milestone event to deliver proclamations of congratulations and to sign memorandums of understanding in order to create exchange programs.
Morgan is also renowned for its engineering school, NFL stars and media workers that include New York Times sports columnist Bill Rhoden and April Ryan, White House correspondent with American Urban Radio Networks and CNN contributor.
Nelson has been on tour since Nov. 14 and has visited Dillard University in Louisiana and Clark- Atlanta University. Future stops include North Carolina Central University, Howard University and South Carolina State University, one of the institutions featured in the film because of the Orangeburg Massacre of 1968, a civil rights protest that resulted in the deaths of three people and the wounding of 27 others.
“Eight years in the making of writing the proposal and gathering grants, we are telling a story that has never been told; 200 years of history in 85 minutes,” Stacey L. Holman, one of the film’s producers, told a Florida A&M University audience Nov. 2. “It was a very daunting task, but no one else was going to tell it. You never hear about the entire experience of black colleges.”
Said Nelson, “We appreciate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s support and the partnership on the ground with local public television and radio stations to make this tour possible.”
Tell Them We Are Rising will air worldwide Feb. 19, 2018 on PBS.
The writer is a student in the Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication.