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HBCU Legacy

If  you want to witness the fruits of White supremacy’s labor, pay close attention to how America honored Dr. Martin Luther King last month for his birthday and how they honor him now during Black History Month. Politicians, public schools, and White evangelicals have mastered the art of celebrating Dr. King without acknowledging his Blackness.


From state capitals and classrooms to pulpits, he has been deftly portrayed as America’s most revered colorless champion for freedom. They erase Dr. King’s Blackness by focusing on the optimism of ‘I Have A Dream’ while completely ignoring the anti-war, American government condemning sentiments of ‘Beyond Vietnam;’ cherry-picking his quotes that speak of love instead of reciting those which lay the blame of generational poverty, racism, and violence at the feet of White America; or revising history to make him the beloved outcast rather than the despised Black leader who died from an assassin’s bullet. But the most egregious erasure of Dr. King’s Blackness is disregarding the intellectual and social development that took place during his matriculation at Morehouse College, an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities).


From the moment Cheyney State College (Cheyney University of Pennsylvania) opened its doors in 1837, every aspect of American society has reaped the benefits of HBCUs. Art: Author Toni Morrison, Howard University; Film Director Spike Lee, Morehouse College; Comedian Roy Wood, Jr., FAMU. Athletics: Olympic Champion Wilma Rudolph, Tennessee State University; Superbowl XXII MVP Doug Williams, Grambling State University; NFL Hall of Famer Walter Payton, Jackson State University. Education: Booker T. Washington, Hampton University; W. E. B. DuBois, Fisk University; Marva Collins, Clark Atlanta University. Politics: NYC Mayor David Dinkins, Howard University; Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder, Virginia Union University; Senator Kamala Harris, Howard University.


These names represent a mere fraction of the HBCU alumni who have impacted America, but most Black children, and probably most Black adults, have no idea that these men and women were nurtured at HBCUs. According to Attorney Chris Tidwell, a Morehouse College graduate, there is a reason for this lack of awareness within the 
Black community:


“Black children are not taught in school or at home that most of the Black heroes they learn about during Black 
History Month are 
graduates of HBCUs. Black children don’t 
connect these great achievements by Black heroes to the Black 
institutions of higher learning that produced them. If Black children were aware of this 
connection, they would 
understand that those institutions could impact their lives in a similar fashion.” – Chris Tidwell


The type of national and international success HBCU Brothers and Sisters have had is expected because HBCUs provide protection and preparation for their students. While Black students are being prepared academically to set new standards in their chosen fields and discussing strategies to combat White supremacy, they are being protected from the racism of classmates and professors that Black students, too often, face at PWIs (Predominantly White Institutions). Black students are given time to breathe, live, love, and think on their own terms. 


Black students must be made aware of the fact that HBCUs have provided and continue to provide Black students with the tools needed to navigate a world that does not always value their existence. When it comes to Black high school students in America, the findings of The National Center for Educational Statistics illustrate how the supposedly integrated public education has failed the Black community: Black students are suspended the most and graduate the least; and nearly eighty percent of their educators are White. HBCUs are the answer to the crisis of failing K-12 public schools. 

HBCUs are the Black community’s responsibility.


The Black church and HBCUs have meant more to the progress of the Black community than any other entities/organizations. If you attended an HBCU or not, the entire Black community is indebted to HBCUs because every Black person has benefitted from their existence.


When other institutions of higher education denied Black students access, HBCUs were there to provide an education that was second to none. When you watch the NASA film Hidden Figures, you are watching the story of three Black women who graduated HBCUs. When you watch the legal film Marshall, you are watching the story of an HBCU grad. When you watch the swim film Pride, you are watching the story of an HBCU grad.  


In 1944, at the age of fifteen, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., entered Morehouse College. Dr. King was mentored by the Morehouse College President, Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays. Dr. Mays was a minister and a human rights activist. He had been fighting America’s dehumanizing Jim Crow laws for decades. Dr. Mays spent time with Mahatma Gandhi in India. He inquired about the social activism techniques Gandhi implemented against the British government, lessons his mentee, Dr. King, would utilize two decades later. Dr. Mays shared his wisdom and life philosophy with Dr. King.


The seeds of Dr. King’s unrelenting pursuit of an America that would extend love, justice, and equality to every citizen were planted and watered by Dr. Benjamin E. Mays during Dr. King’s Morehouse years. On the campus of Morehouse College, Dr. King’s mind and spirit were being trained to lead a movement that would have global repercussions.  The Civil Rights Movement, the greatest social justice movement in twentieth century America, started in the hearts and minds of students on the campuses of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Engine 21 & 

Chicago's Black Fire

of 1874

by: Kay James McCrimon

The Second Great Chicago Fire or “The Black Fire of 1874,” occurred on July 14, 1874, two and a half years following the Great Chicago Fire of October 8, 1871.  The historical significance of the “Black Fire”, however, became important for three reasons; first, it destroyed the largest African-American community in the city, an area appearing untouched by the first fire; second, the fire raised the awareness and magnitude of Engine Company Number 21, Chicago’s first Black fire company; and third, the fire became a catalyst for Chicago’s Great Migration movement. 


On July 14, 1874, the majority of Chicago’s African American community was out celebrating the day at a church picnic, and therefore, were not in attendance when the Black Chicago Fire of 1874 blazed through their neighborhood destroying approximately 1,000 homes, leaving 3,000 blacks homeless and claiming 400 lives.  However, the section that burned in the 1874 fire was south of the downtown Chicago core that was rebuilt after the 1871 fire. According to a story written by fireman DeKalb Walcott, “the African-American section of town burned to the ground and people scattered throughout the city seeking refuge after losing everything that they owned due to the catastrophic fire that burned almost every home in the area south of the loop.  It was only nine years after slavery ended and many people were still trying to adjust to life in the big city.  This catastrophe did not help their cause.”



Engine Company Number 21 was organized by Chicago’s Mayor Joseph Medill following the Civil War. Mayor Medill, a humanitarian, abolitionist, publisher of the Chicago Tribune and a Republican, used his government powers to create the first Negro fire company in Chicago. Two white men, David Kenyon, 1st Foreman and James E. Porter, Assistant Foreman, led the team.  The African American members were Henry Pethybridge, Engineer, Willie Hawkins and James Johnson, Pipe Men, Stephen Paine and George Adams, Host Cart Drivers, George Reid, Watchman and William Watkins, Stoker.


According to Chicago annual reports, David Kenyon and the members of Engine Company 21 created the first wooden sliding pole that would gain popularity in future fire houses.  The story goes that George Reid slid down the pole first.  Reid was working on the third floor othe firehouse where hay was stored. 


Normally, when an alarm struck, members responded by taking a spiral staircase down to the first floor.  Fireman Reid, however, chose to slide down the pole and had the horses hooked up and ready to go by the time the other members reached the first floor.  When fellow firefighters inquired how he descended so quickly, he responded, “I slid the pole,”  thereby creating the concept of sliding down the pole, which enhanced the speed by which Engine Company  21 became known for, as they were often the first responders to most fires in the city of Chicago


In 1850, there were 323 Black citizens spread throughout the city’s nine wards.  By 1874, approximately 4,000 African-Americans lived in Chicago, out of a total population of 300,000, and the downtown area was home to a significant number of middle-class African-American families.  However, the fire displaced most of these families, who then moved to other, less populated communities on the city’s West and South Sides. Their choice of location would have a major impact on the future housing patterns of African-Americans in the city.


On the South Side, these new communities would eventually stretch into a long and narrow chain of segregated neighborhoods known as Chicago’s “Black Belt,” an area that contained most of the city’s African-American population.


July 14, 2016 will mark the 142nd anniversary of the Black Chicago Fire of 1874. Due to their relationship with Engine Company 21, Black people in the City of Chicago have maintained a direct relationship with the fire department.   Following the fire in July 1874, Blacks argued for better water supplies, for better and larger water mains, and stressed better building code laws just as Mayor Joseph Medill had done following the fire in 1871. According to the Chicago Fire Department annual reports, Engine  Company 21 met and exceeded the expectations that many white Chicagoans placed on them.  Although many whites labeled Engine Company 21 as inferior, they demonstrated their proficiency to the public and were a source of pride to other Blacks in Chicago.  

In March of 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced an ordinance that would allow the organizers of the Chicago African-American Firefighters Museum to develop the property at 5349 S. Wabash Avenue with a 10-year, $1 lease.  Retired firefighter Morris Davis is leading the creation of the museum, saying it is important that people know exactly what Black firefighters have done for the City of Chicago and across the country.

10 X 10 to Win

You’ve probably seen them on the streets of Chicago, gathered as a group at major events, people wearing neon-colored shirts that prominently read “10X10 to Win.” It’s a movement, a force that is sweeping Chicago. Over 50,000 Chicagoans have already signed up and committed to bring in 10 more people each. Most importantly, every member of 10X10 to Win has pledged to vote as a bloc for whatever candidate the bloc chooses. That’s power! That’s people power!


This Movement was spearheaded by WVON Radio Talk Show Host, Mark Wallace. Although Wallace doesn’t want to take full credit for the idea, he certainly deserves more credit than he admits to. He insists, however, on sharing the credit with the caller who recommended asking for one dollar per person, which will add up to one million dollars when the goal of one million voters is reached. He credits another person with adding the words “to win” after 10 by 10. But an idea is just an idea until it is implemented, and anyone who knows Mark Wallace knows he is a man of action.


For instance, he formed the Citizens to Abolish Red Light Cameras and continues to fight against the red light and speed cameras that are predominately in Black South and West Side communities.  Most recently, Wallace has been heralded as the “$38 million dollar man” for the successful lawsuit against the City of Chicago, who aids and abets the Red Light Camera Companies in swindling Chicagoans out of $100’s of thousands of dollars


So it is not surprising, nor remarkable that he swiftly went into action on behalf of the 10X10 idea in the same way he tackled the red light camera situation. A day after the 10x10 idea was officially conceived, Mark had the website built; t-shirts came shortly after, then buttons, then a cell phone number to receive texts about 10 X 10 events, meetings and other news – simply text “10x10” to 33222


 “I used to say on my radio show,” says Wallace, “Don’t go to the polls alone. Get 10 of your friends and tell them to bring 10 of their friends.” After saying that repeatedly, he began to do the math which went like this: If 10 people went out and got 10 people, that would be 100 people. If each one of 100 people got 10 people, that would be 1,000 people. If 1,000 people got 10 people each, that would come to 100,000 people. And if 100,000 people each got 10 people, we would have a million people.

And what a million people could do to change the political landscape of Chicago and Cook County and Illinois would 
be amazing.


Wallace points out that in the last five municipal elections the Black vote has been fractionalized and utilized to benefit somebody else’s political interest. He contends that “Unless we have a collective effort from the Black community then a victory doesn’t happen. That’s why we started the 10x10 community to have a collective voice; an impactful voice in the Black community. There is no pathway to victory unless we have that kind of unity.” 


With multiple people running in the current election, Wallace says that he is frequently asked who he is supporting, and his answer is always the same: “That’s not important.” He explains that, “If we are able to build a bloc of even a half-million people, we will be able to collectively decide who we will support. It’s not about a personality, it’s really about principle. So what’s important is if we are able to build a bloc, we will decide who we will support.”


The first thing the bloc would do would be to develop the agenda items that are important to the black community. Based on the items of importance, they would then develop a questionnaire that would be presented to candidates that have announced or have expressed an interest to come before the bloc. The 10x10 bloc members would pursue the questionnaire answers of the prospective candidates.


After that, the candidate would come before the body to present their platform and answer questions posed by members of the bloc.. In that forum, the candidates would also be asked if they are willing to sign a pledge to adopt the platform that came from the community. Finally, the bloc would have its own internal vote and whichever person in those respective offices gets the majority vote that would be the candidate we slate for the office of mayor, city clerk, aldermen, etc.  


Wallace emphasizes that it would take a serious commitment on behalf of the members of the bloc in order for the bloc to be successful. “We have to agree that whoever becomes the candidate is the one we’re going to support. I don’t think it would be a problem as long as we understand that whoever became the bloc’s chosen candidate would be beholden to the entire bloc because the bloc could determine that person’s future.“If we only had a half-million voters in the bloc, that would be enough,” says Wallace, “No mayoral candidate has ever received more than 329,000 votes – so 500,000 would guarantee that the candidate the bloc selects would be the next mayor.”


Wallace explained it further, “If we had 500,000 voters from the city of Chicago that agreed to vote as a bloc, and if that 500,000 people would go to the polls going the same way it is more than likely that that person who the bloc chose and for whom the bloc is voting would win the election because no candidate has ever had 500,000 votes since Harold Washington in any local election. So that makes it pretty powerful. It’s a powerful statement, that means that your vote matters, your voice will be heard and your issues will be addressed. It speaks to a lot of reaffirmations and a lot of hope issues that have been dormant for a long time.


The ultimate goal of 10X10 to win is to “elect the individual who will prioritize the needs of the Black community of Chicago, Cook County and Illinois – no matter what race or nationality that candidate happens to be.” Wallace adds that, The late Mayor Harold Washington, who Wallace deems ‘the greatest mayor Chicago has ever had,’ has demonstrated that a Black person in the position of political power can make a difference. and it just makes sense that an African American would be more likely to understand the issues that affect the Black population.”  So, electing a Black person into a decision-making office would be ideal. Wallace points out however that right now, our problem is not a lack of Black elected politicians.


“In fact, there are more Black people in legislative offices in the State of Illinois than in any other state in the United States of America. We have 18 Black aldermen, 20 Black State Reps, 10 Black State Senators, 5 Black County Board Commissioners, 3 Black U.S. Congressmen, a Black Cook County Board President, a Black Lieutenant Governor and a Black Attorney General.”


Yet, in spite of all these Black faces in high places, “Black people are last in any area you can mention – from education to economics – and there is not a single person in or out of the government that can demonstrate one piece of legislation that has passed in the city of Chicago, the County of Cook or the State of Illinois that has lifted the condition of the Black community – not one!”


Chicago may never have another Mayor like Harold Washington, “but with a strong voting bloc we can make demands on all politicians, we can make them accountable,” proclaims Wallace. Politicians respond to numbers. They would know the impact a voting bloc could have on their futures, and they would know that it would be in their best interest to comply with the voters demands.”  


That guarantee is more important at this time than ever before. Individuals can sign up for 10x10 to win by going on line to Not having a computer is no excuse. You can sign up using your cell phone. You can also go to the public library and sign up. A united voting bloc would be an historic achievement. And Mark Wallace believes it can be done – not one-by-one, but 10 by 10.


Mark Wallace is a tireless advocate for constitutional Justice and Economic Equity for every human being. He developed the mortgage restructuring and modification workshop for Rainbow Push, volunteered as a bible class instructor for a woman’s shelter, as well as the director of Christian education at his church (2000-2003). He is Host of The People’s Show on WVON 1690 am and Co-Host of the Borges Report with Attorney Ernesto Borges. He is the Executive Director of the Citizens to Abolish Red Light Cameras and the 10X10 to Win Coalition. 


If 10 people went out and got 10 people, that would be 100 people. If each one of 100 people got 10 people, that would be 1,000 people. If 1,000 people got 10 people each, that would come to 100,000 people. And if 100,000 people each got 10 people, we would have a million people. And what a million people could do to change the political landscape of Chicago and Cook County and Illinois would be amazing.

HBCUs provided me access to a first-rate education within a nurturing, supportive, and familial atmosphere. I learned to embrace the beauty of my Blackness, my culture, and my history at Shaw University. Each day on campus you were reminded of your responsibility to the legacy of scholarship and social activism. Shaw University changed my life,” proudly stated Michelle Strickland, Shaw University graduate and business owner of

In 2003 I decided to attend Miles College a HBCU located in Birmingham, AL majoring in the field of Mathematics. The benefits I appreciated most were that the professors mirrored my image, genuinely cared about my success beyond the classroom, and could relate to me on a personal level. The class sizes were small, which contributed to in large part of my academic success,” reflected Miles graduateLemar Owens, Educator/Mentor in Chicago Public Schools.


“HBCUs represent a tradition of success and excellence.  HBCUs provide a supportive environment that push you to be the highest version of yourself while keeping you rooted in your lineage and heritage. And during this important time of development, you do not have to worry about the racist nonsense. I am better prepared to navigate any professional and social setting due to the fundamental lessons and the work ethic Hampton University instilled in me,” explained HU graduate Natasha Ferguson, who is currently a PhD Student in Integrated Biomedical Sciences at Rush University.

Michelle Strickland

Lemar Owens 

Natasha Ferguson