The U.S. Supreme Court and Affirmative Action

Johnny E. Parham, Jr. began his career as a community organizer with the Urban League of Essex County. Other Urban League positions included the Brooklyn Branch and the National Urban League. He established the Opportunities Industrialization Center and served as executive director. He is an active supporter and advocate for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. As an embodiment of that commitment, he has served as vice president of the United Negro College Fund and executive director of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. He is a graduate of Morehouse College.

To this writer, the June 2023 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that outlawed the use of race in college admissions did not surprise, given the historic reality that racial antagonism against African Americans is baked into every system of this government. Throughout our existence on these shores, the U.S. Supreme Court has not served to interpret the Constitution as a doctrine designed to protect our rights. The historic exception was the Warren Court.

With the reality of history as a guide, why are we wringing our hands in wonder as to what should be our next step? For me the ready answer lies in the remarkable success of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

According to a report by the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), Black HBCU graduates working full-time can earn more throughout their career compared to Black students who graduated from non-HBCU institutions.

The report also found that HBCUs are responsible for producing 80 percent of Black judges, 50 percent of Black doctors, and 50 percent of Black lawyers, all high- paying careers.

Another report from the Urban Institute found that Black students who attended HBCUs felt more satisfied with their overall college experience than their peers who attended non-HBCU institutions.

I have yet to see statistics that show comparable successes by Black students who graduated from predominantly white institutions (PWI) where race was a factor in admissions. However, please do not conclude that this is an argument for the era when “Separate but Equal” was the law of the land.

My position is that we have available to us HBCUs that have historically defied America’s expectations of Black Americans. Additionally, we should be mindful of the reality that affirmative action as a criterion was NOT the only means for admissions of African Americans into PWIs.

In June, 2023 Goldman Sachs Research issued a report entitled “Historically Black Colleges Are Critical for Equality and Need More Funding.” The report goes on to further support the findings of UNCF, along with the empirical findings and experiences of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund that HBCUs are vital resources for African Americans.

It has long been stated that, “Were there no HBCUs, we would be convening conferences and organizing movements to make them a reality.” They have remained available to us long before affirmative action and now is the time to offer them our financial support, along with applications for admission.