In his magisterial study, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans, John Hope Franklin noted that among the first things that the newly emancipated slaves focused upon during the Reconstruction Era was building churches and schools.
The churches and their proliferation — especially across the South — were natural outgrowths of what Princeton professor Albert Raboteau has called slave religion. Those churches, and eventually the multiple black denominations spawned by them, were organic expressions of a spiritually-inclined minority of Americans who had challenged the evils of human bondage and won through their faith in deity.
The crop of black schools, especially what we now call Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs, came next. There was a veritable proliferation of them across the former slaves states, including colleges like Howard University — from which Vice President Joe Biden’s new running mate emerged three decades ago.
Senator Kamala Harris makes history with her journey from Howard to celebrated status as running mate to a man who would be president. It has never happened before, and is highly symbolic of yet another gradualist stride along the expansive racial spectrum in America.
Howard is a flagship school within the national African American community. Since its inception in the bloody aftermath of the Civil War, Howard has been a fount to which black students, who were intellectually ambitious, would travel to learn and thrive, find their voice and establish their social space. Established in the nation’s capital by the Freedman’s Bureau, Howard would rise and fall over the decades at the will and whim of federal funding or generous philanthropists. Founded in 1887, Howard endures, even as other HBCUs — created for the same reasons of educating former slaves — have floundered.
In choosing Harris this week, Biden called her “a fearless fighter for the little guy, and one of the country’s finest public servants.” The statement could have easily referred to the testy exchanges between them during the democratic presidential primary last year where Harris sought to connect Biden to issues of bias in public education and busing, also accusing him of racial sensitivity…