A major anniversary passed earlier this month without much attention in the HBCU community. July 1 marked the 40th anniversary of a federal court ruling which forced the merger of the predominantly white University of Tennessee-Nashville into the state's historically black flagship, Tennessee State University.
A dramatic extension of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling of 1954, it was the first case to show that intersections of racism and resources were not simply limited to where black students were allowed to learn, but also in the ways black institutions were allowed to grow and attract diverse student bodies.
Public HBCUs nationwide continue the fight for equitable resources. HBCU stakeholders in Maryland await mediation and settlement with a state found guilty in 2013 of maintaining a racially-divided "separate but unequal" system of higher education for black and white students through program duplication. In North Carolina, dramatic funding inequities persist for HBCUs and PWI counterparts.
But something much worse is happening in Georgia, where HBCU alumni and lawmakers continue to debate the merits of a consolidation plan for the state's three public black colleges while the state's system of higher education has cemented a plan to destroy all of the HBCU campuses, public and private, in a matter of years.
Since 2011, the University System of Georgia has consolidated 18 of its public institutions into nine campuses, under the guise of helping the state to conserve money and empowering students to better outcomes.
But a closer look at the geography of these consolidations reveals a striking trend -- four of the nine merger initiatives have taken place within geographic proximity to the state's HBCUs. One consolidation, Albany State University, and Darton State College has been the exception to the trend.
With distances ranging from 50 miles to less than 500 feet, all of Georgia's public and private black colleges are now in the footprint of predominantly white institutions growing in minority student population and resources. These maps show the distance between the HBCUs and the consolidated PWIs.
FORT VALLEY STATE UNIVERSITY AND MIDDLE GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY
Separated by less than 50 miles, MGSU was established in 2015 through the consolidation of Macon State College and Middle Georgia College. Between 2013 and 2017, black student enrollment at both schools has dipped, but FVSU has lost more than 500 students while MGSU has lost a little over 200.
SAVANNAH STATE UNIVERSITY AND GEORGIA SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY
Armstrong State University and Georgia Southern University were officially consolidated in January 2018, but black student enrollment at GSU prior to the consolidation was steadily ahead of Savannah State numbers by more than 1,200.
GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY AND THE ATLANTA UNIVERSITY CENTER
Georgia State is home to the nation's largest single-institution enrollment of African American students; an achievement that isn't lost in a look at the numbers from the AUC's accredited institutions.
PAINE COLLEGE AND AUGUSTA UNIVERSITY
Georgia Regents University, which was renamed Augusta University in 2015, was the byproduct of a consolidated Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University in 2012. Since then, black enrollment has spiked while accreditation and financial issues have tanked Paine.
The numbers aren't nearly as staggering as the reality driving them; it is not enough for states to redirect black students away from black colleges to larger institutions created through mergers but to slowly destroy them through geographic access as well. Why would eligible black students considering any HBCUs in Georgia turn down possible scholarships, better resources, more degree programs and better campus amenities for a cheaper sticker price?
Culture and caring may be the best and obvious answers, but thanks to the deliberate plans set by the USG and the changing attitudes of black students, it may be too late before anyone realizes the racist and the possibly criminal way that Georgia has warped black student access to higher education for generations to come.