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Why Historically Black Colleges Are Enjoying a Renaissance

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Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity alumni at Clark Atlanta University welcome new members (left) of the oldest Greek-lettered organization for African Americans, which counts Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Martin Luther King, Jr., in its ranks. Image by Nina Robinson. United States, 2017.

Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity alumni at Clark Atlanta University welcome new members (left) of the oldest Greek-lettered organization for African Americans, which counts Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Martin Luther King, Jr., in its ranks. Image by Nina Robinson. United States, 2017.

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Maura Chanz Washington, a 2015 graduate of Spelman College, the top-rated historically black institution, returned to campus to commemorate Founders Day, April 11, 1881. It’s one of the most celebrated days of the academic year at this college for women. Image by Nina Robinson. United States, 2017.

Maura Chanz Washington, a 2015 graduate of Spelman College, the top-rated historically black institution, returned to campus to commemorate Founders Day, April 11, 1881. It’s one of the most celebrated days of the academic year at this college for women. Image by Nina Robinson. United States, 2017.

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Morehouse College student government leaders John Cooper and Kamren Rollins paint a sign on campus to stimulate discussion about the N-word. Another student passes by wearing a T-shirt with an image of the late rap artist Tupac Shakur, who used the term liberally in his lyrics. Image by Radcliffe "Ruddy" Roye. United States, 2017.

Morehouse College student government leaders John Cooper and Kamren Rollins paint a sign on campus to stimulate discussion about the N-word. Another student passes by wearing a T-shirt with an image of the late rap artist Tupac Shakur, who used the term liberally in his lyrics. Image by Radcliffe "Ruddy" Roye. United States, 2017.

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Freshmen enter the Morehouse chapel named for Martin Luther King, Jr., whose words are etched on the wall. The weekly, required Crown Forum assembly introduces leaders who address issues of the day. The all-male college aims to develop disciplined men who will lead lives of scholarship and service. Image by Radcliffe "Ruddy" Roye. United States, 2017.

Freshmen enter the Morehouse chapel named for Martin Luther King, Jr., whose words are etched on the wall. The weekly, required Crown Forum assembly introduces leaders who address issues of the day. The all-male college aims to develop disciplined men who will lead lives of scholarship and service. Image by Radcliffe "Ruddy" Roye. United States, 2017.

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The Atlanta University Center’s campuses adjoin. Spelman student DeJah Ault, with Gerard Contee from Morehouse and Khalil Pickering from Clark Atlanta, says, “It doesn’t feel like we go to separate schools.” Image by Radcliffe "Ruddy" Roye. United States, 2017.

The Atlanta University Center’s campuses adjoin. Spelman student DeJah Ault, with Gerard Contee from Morehouse and Khalil Pickering from Clark Atlanta, says, “It doesn’t feel like we go to separate schools.” Image by Radcliffe "Ruddy" Roye. United States, 2017.

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Morehouse adjunct professor La’Neice Littleton, left, debates use of the N-word. “When we attempt to appropriate a term that is negative in origin, or even suggest that there’s affirmation in the use of the term, we display the ways in which we love our own oppression.” Some students disagree. Image by Radcliffe "Ruddy" Roye. United States, 2017.

Morehouse adjunct professor La’Neice Littleton, left, debates use of the N-word. “When we attempt to appropriate a term that is negative in origin, or even suggest that there’s affirmation in the use of the term, we display the ways in which we love our own oppression.” Some students disagree. Image by Radcliffe "Ruddy" Roye. United States, 2017.

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Students at Clark Atlanta University work on a chemistry lesson. Historically black colleges account for nearly half of the top 50 schools that produce black students who go on to receive graduate degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math. Image by Nina Robinson. United States, 2017.

Students at Clark Atlanta University work on a chemistry lesson. Historically black colleges account for nearly half of the top 50 schools that produce black students who go on to receive graduate degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math. Image by Nina Robinson. United States, 2017.

"Many black students have pivoted to HBCUs recently out of concern that their comfort, safety, and humanity are under siege. Enrollment at many HBCUs, which surged in 2016 and 2017, cannot be disentangled from students’ rising concerns about a world that seems to consistently devalue and dehumanize them. This precariousness has led to a political awakening at institutions with long traditions of activism."

These images and the writing excerpt are part of a larger multimedia project featuring work by Pulitzer Center grantees Nina Robinson and Ruddy Roye. Continue reading and see the full multimedia feature at National Geographic