United Negro College Fund

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United Negro College Fund


The United Negro College Fund, an alliance of forty-one black colleges and institutions of higher education, is a philanthropic enterprise established to fund black education. It was created during World War II, at a time when almost all black colleges were in dangerously poor financial shape. The Great Depression and wartime shortages had cut deeply into charitable donations, and many students were unable to pay their own tuition. In 1943 Tuskegee Institute president Frederick Douglass Patterson wrote an article in the Pittsburgh Courier, proposing that black colleges streamline their fund-raising by uniting in a joint funding appeal. The next year, presidents of twenty-seven colleges met and agreed to support a united mass fundraising campaign, the proceeds of which they would divide among their colleges. With the aid of donations from the Julius Rosenwald Fund and the Rockefeller-based General Education Board, the organization, named the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) and based in New York, was founded. It was composed of privately supported (largely southern) black colleges, which authorized the UNCF to raise all funds for operating expenses such as scholarships, teachers' salaries, and equipment. Each college president agreed to serve revolving thirty-day terms leading UNCF efforts. William Trent, a manager trained at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, was its first executive director.

In 1944 the UNCF inaugurated its first national campaign. It was an enormous success: the organization raised $765,000, three times the combined amount that its member colleges had collected in the previous year. Fueled by its rapid success, the UNCF soon grew, hiring a permanent independent staff. In 1951 the UNCF began a separate capital campaign, the National Mobilization of Resources, for the United Negro Colleges to pay for building and endowment funds, and raised $18 million in four years with the help of John D. Rockefeller Jr. In 1963 the UNCF, with the support of President John F. Kennedy and the Ford Foundation, began an additional appeal for funds for long-neglected maintenance and expansion of campus physical plants, and raised $30 million in a single year.

In 1964 Trent resigned. As it struggled to redefine its mission and to promote the legitimacy of black college education in the face of mainstream university desegregation, the UNCF went through six presidents, beginning with Patterson, in the next ten years. The turbulence of the civil rights movement scared away potential donors, and funding levels dropped.

In 1972 the UNCF was accepted by the Advertising Council, and television and radio advertising became a major avenue for fund-raising. The UNCF's slogan, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste," became so well known it was included in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. Under the leadership of Christopher Edley (president from 1973 to 1990), the UNCF's annual campaign receipts went from $11.1 million to $48.1 million, and its membership grew to forty-one colleges. In 1978 the UNCF inaugurated a Capital Resources Development Program, which raised $60 million for its member institutions, and a College Endowment Funding Program, designed by Patterson to reduce college dependence on federal funding for permanent expenses. In 1980 the UNCF also began a yearly fund-raising telethon, "The Lou Rawls Parade of Stars."

In 1990 Christopher Edley resigned, and the following year, U.S. House Majority Whip William Gray III left his seat in Congress to become the UNCF's new president, underlining its importance in the black community. That year the UNCF started "Campaign 2000," a drive to raise $250 million by the year 2000. With the support of President George H. W. Bush and a $50 million gift from media magnate Walter Annenberg, it raised $86 million in its first year.

The United Negro College Fund remains the premier nongovernmental funding source for historically black colleges. Its narrow goal of endowment fund-raising and appeal to donors across the political spectrum has brought it a certain amount of criticism as a politically "safe" charity. However, its defenders have emphasized that quality black colleges remain a necessary alternative for students seeking higher education, and the UNCF's efforts have assured the survival and growth of these institutions.

In 2003, after transforming the UNCF into a powerful philanthropic organization, Gray announced that he would step down as president. In 2004 Dr. Michael L. Lomax became president and CEO.

See also Education in the United States; Gray, William H., III

Bibliography

Patterson, Frederick Douglass. Chronicles of Faith: The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass Patterson. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1991.

greg robinson (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005