#MFF17: Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Historically Black Colleges and Universities — a documentary that chronicles the history of Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs) — was well-received when it showed at the Montclair Film Festival on Friday night.

In our current climate — one in which the Secretary of Education wrongly called HBCUs “pioneers of school choice” and the President is questioning the Constitutionality of federal funding for Black colleges — it seems this film comes at a crucial time.

The strength of Stanley Nelson’s film, lies in the origin story. Using historic documents and photos, the film gives a comprehensive lesson of the struggle of Black people in a Post-Civil War America to get an education and the path that would lead to higher education for a people who were once denied the right to read.

The middle of the film documents the height of HBCUs, when schools such as Howard, Spelman, Morehouse, and Tuskegee were thriving with graduates going on to be highly successful doctors, lawyers, and other professionals. The Civil Rights movement and how it led to the desegregation of schools is a highlight of the film, particularly because it includes first hand accounts from HBCU students who were a part of the activism.

Where the film lacks, is the ending, which moves a bit too quickly to show why HBCUs are an important modern day option for many Black students and the uncertain future of the schools. While the viewer can get a sense of the problems the schools are facing, we never get an in depth explanation of the reasons.

Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Historically Black Colleges and Universities
MFF Executive Director Tom Hall with film director Stanley Nelson and his team. (Photo: Neil Grabowsky)

Still, after seeing this film, there is no doubt of the importance of HBCUs in today’s society. Nelson, in the post-film Q&A and in his written message on the film’s website, said, “With on-going campus racism and an increasingly hostile national climate for communities of color, the need for institutions that prioritize a quality educational, cultural, and social climate for black people is as important as ever.”

Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Historically Black Colleges and Universities will air nationally on the PBS series Independent Lens this fall.

 

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