Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund: Why a Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste.
AUTHOR: MARYBETH GASMAN
JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2007
Many are familiar with the United Negro College Fund's motto, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste;" however, few know much about the UNCF's innovative work since its founding in 1945. In Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund, Marybeth Gasman focuses on an organization that serves as the foundation of American higher education. The historian traces its origins and various changes including its responses to the Brown v. Board Supreme Court decision, the Black consciousness movement, and negative reports about all-Black colleges.
Founded during the post-World War II period as a descendant of white philanthropic efforts, for many years, the UNCF retained remnants of outside control. In its early years the organization was restrained in its critique of segregation and reluctance to lodge a challenge against institutional and cultural racism. Gasman has assembled the text into seven chapters in addition to an introduction and a conclusion. In chapter 1 the author introduces the background upon which the UNCF was able to develop when she quotes Frederick D. Patterson, former president of Tuskegee Institute:" 'The coming together of the private Black colleges out of concern for our needs; the fact that we were not going to get the amount of money we had been receiving from our former sources; and the innovative fundraising practices of other organizations - all of these factors contributed to the formation of the UNCF' " (p. 22). Gasman also shares that the goals of the UNCF initially were: to raise funds for member colleges, to promote better understanding and appreciation of the needs and problems of Negroes through fundraising and to set an example of interracial cooperation in [the Fund's] national campaign (p. 23). In chapter 2, the author discusses the introduction of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his contributions to the United Negro College Fund. He ultimately lent his name and financial support to the Fund. His influence also garnered leadership and funds from other whites who otherwise probably would never have shown any interest in the UNCF.
In Chapter 3 the author details the fundraising efforts of the New York Women's Division. She closes the chapter with this thought that sums up its entire sentiment: "Although the women did much to undermine social segregation in New York City, in many ways the work of the Women's Division still played into the 'double consciousness' of the UNCE By and large, the Women's Division events still presented the UNCF from a privileged white woman's perspective" (p. 84). Chapter 4 addresses the question that many had regarding the future of black colleges and whether or not they stood in the way of integration. In Chapter 5, Gasman examines the role of the UNCF at the peak of the Civil Rights Movement. She further notes that in response to the changes taking place on black college campuses as a result of the Movement, "the United Negro College Fund departed from its rather conservative public stance to embrace a more black-centered style of fundraising and become much more activist in its approach to representing black colleges as a whole" (p. 120). Chapter 6 details how black leaders became more authoritative as a result of the white scrutiny they were subjected to. Chapter 7 takes a close look at the modern day UNCF and the launch of the "A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste" campaign. She explains the power of the "Mind" campaign: it" 'was a plea to everybody to reject the prejudices of the past and consider the inner person. We wanted to make supporting the UNCF a human issue and not a race issue. Although the ads speak of the consequences of unrealized educational opportunity, they emphasize the losses to individual blacks as opposed to losses to whites suggested by earlier publicity, some of which ventured into racist territory'" (p. 187).
There is a wealth of material about various aspects of African-American history; few, however, have attempted to archive an organization that had such a profound effect on African-American history. Through this piece, Gasman argues for the importance of studying individual segments of history, and not solely with a sweeping motion.
As a researcher interested in the effects of advertising, I think my favorite chapter has relevance for academics from a myriad of fields who argue for the validity of a strong campaign. Entitled "A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste," Chapter 7 takes a carefully crafted look at the importance and validity of advertising and how a powerful ad can easily cross color lines. Gasman includes copies of actual advertisements that triggered many to donate large sums to the UNCE Some of these include "You Can't Cure Cancer with a Monkey Wrench" (p. 172), "Don't Think of it as Charity. Think of it as an Investment" (p. 178), and "There was a time when supporting black education could have cost your freedom. Today it just costs your money." (p. 184).
Envisioning Black Colleges is an interesting and informative foray into a piece of history that is continues to create history today. The book raises challenges for both scholars and practitioners of higher education that are averse to studying pieces of history with the notion that focusing on part of the whole can be worthwhile. Perhaps, most importantly, this book serves as a part of the evolution of black empowerment.
REVIEWER: TRACIE N. BABB, BOWIE STATE UNIVERSITY
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|Author:||Babb, Tracie N.|
|Publication:||The Western Journal of Black Studies|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2009|
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