October 25, 2023

The Legacy of Homecoming: 5 Preservationists on the HBCUs They Call Home

Anticipation fills the autumn air at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) as Homecoming season arrives. The sights and sounds of Black joy flood our communities in spiritual celebration of a return home. Feet stomping, hands clapping, pinkies raised, canes smacking as people line the streets, and thousands of beating hearts unite to the percussive pulse of the drumline. For almost two centuries, HBCUs have been vessels of empowerment for Black Americans, and embedded within each are spaces of resistance, resilience, and refuge.

Exploring the cultural significance of HBCUs through the perspectives of five dedicated preservationists reveals the profound importance of sacred traditions like homecoming and the vital role they play in safeguarding them. In a world where Black history and heritage are more challenged than ever, preservation ensures the heritage shaped by memory, revival, and a powerful sense of unity within these institutions continues to be shared.

Dr. Gregory J. Vincent (Talladega College)

“ Talladega College, was built on faith… the promise of world-class education at an affordable price. At the heartbeat of that is the chapel and Swayne Hall, the oldest building built by enslaved persons.”

Dr. Gregory J. Vincent

As a child, Dr. Gregory J. Vincent attended St. Philip's Episcopal Church in Harlem, founded by New York's first Black Episcopal priest, Peter Williams. This example of spiritual leadership echoes through his own practice as the 21st president of Talladega College, preserving the legacy of its founders, William Savery and Thomas Tarrant, who recognized "the education of our children as vital to the preservation of our liberties." Vincent believes HBCUs have always been vehicles for transformation and liberation, pivotal in shaping leaders who profoundly impact American society.

Exterior view of Swayne Hall at Talledega College. It is a classical brick building with three above ground floors and four columns.

photo by: National Trust for Historic Preservation

Exterior view of the front of Swayne Hall.

Vincent's personal connection to preservation is embodied in the memories he's created with his family on HBCU campuses. It's in the tears he shed during his daughter's parting ceremony as she embarked on her journey as a Spelman College woman. It's also evident in the remarkable moment when his son stood in awe before the statue of Dr. Martin Luther King at Morehouse College, declaring, 'I am going to be a Morehouse Man.' Vincent believes HBCU culture has always been inclusive, a vehicle for transformation and liberation. It is pivotal in shaping leaders who profoundly impact American society.

Madisyn Hunter (The Florida A&M University)

“So even if the communities end up gentrified or everyone moves away, you still have events like homecoming. For that one or two days it's straight up Black history, and Black culture.”

Madisyn Hunter
Madisyn  Hunter in 2011 during Homecoming at FAMU.

photo by: Madisyn Hunter

Madisyn Hunter at Homecoming at FAMU in 2011.

Madisyn Hunter and family standing in the football stands during homecoming at FAMU.

photo by: Madisyn Hunter

Madisyn Hunter with her family at a recent FAMU Homecoming.

Madisyn Hunter's journey began as she watched her father perform alongside The Florida A&M (FAMU) Marching 100. Her first FAMU Band Camp was housed in Paddyfoote, a former four-building dorm complex with substantial challenges, and she remembers days without air conditioning and taking cold showers after marching "The Patch" in the Florida sun. What struck her most was the unwavering support from camp staff who worked through the night to ensure students had hot water for a morning shower. That dedication led Hunter to choose FAMU as the place where she truly belonged, and she is currently a Master of Architecture student at FAMU and a HOPE Crew Digital Documentation Fellow.

Her ongoing work is dedicated to documenting the historic Lucy Moten School building and proposing the best future use for the site. An active member of The Marching 100 and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Hunter cherishes FAMU's traditions like Fried Chicken Wednesday and Fish Fry Friday. These traditions embody the unapologetic celebration of Black culture that HBCUs ensure. For her, Homecoming is a platform for networking with family and embracing history. She believes that HBCUs will always be a safe space where students of color can truly be themselves.

Arthur J. Clement (North Carolina Central University)

“Historic Preservation can only be successful if the needed resources are available to help HBCUs make intentional choices that celebrate their unique cultural heritage. Without external assistance from governments and foundations, these institutions will limp along.”

Arthur J. Clement

Arthur J. Clement grew up in the rich tapestry of North Carolina Central University’s (NCCU) campus life and traditions. These experiences instilled a profound appreciation for the close-knit community fostered by the presence of an HBCU like NCCU.

Although his parents and older siblings attended HBCUs, Clement made the courageous decision to accept a scholarship and attend the predominantly white institution, North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He later became the first African American graduate of the School of Design at NC State with a Bachelor of Architecture.

The family of Arthur J. Clement standing on the steps of a building at Spelman College in 1992, where Clement's mother was honored.

photo by: Art Clement

Arthur J. Clement with his family and mother who was honored at Spelman College on Founder’s Day in 1992.

Clement’s career path as a preservation architect led him toward working on numerous HBCU campuses in Georgia. His firm provided campus planning and campus heritage studies for such HBCUs as Spelman College, Morehouse College, Clark Atlanta University, Fort Valley State University, and Savannah State University. Clement has contributed research and published articles about the history of several HBCUs and serves on the advisory committee for the HBCU Cultural Heritage Stewardship Initiative.

Clement envisions a future where HBCUs have a more expanded role in civic engagement with local partners to revitalize the Black communities in their vicinity.

Troy Glover (Morris College)

“It's a support system. It's an encouragement. It's just a family. It’s a true family.”

Troy Glover

Troy Glover entered college at the tender age of sixteen, leaving home in pursuit of opportunity in Sumter, South Carolina. Anxieties turned into avenues for growth in his intellectual and social development. His time at Morris College was characterized by wholehearted involvement in various organizations, including the student government, where he helped foster a safe space for difficult conversations and mentorship in the heart of the campus. The former student government office building remains etched in Glover’s heart as a testament to a lasting experience that paved the way for a career far beyond those revered halls.

Fueled by the support received at Morris College, Glover continued to Ohio State University, earning his master's in city and regional planning. Today, he is an educational planner contributing to the future academic landscape of HBCUs. He also serves on the Board of Trustees at Morris College.

Troy Glover stands with his Morris College Alumni fraternity brothers attending the 2023 Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. General Convention.

photo by: Tiffany Tolbert

Troy Glover (right) with Morris College alumni fraternity brothers attending the 2023 Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. General Convention.

Recognizing the challenges HBCUs face, Glover sees the significance of working with city governments and local businesses and leveraging the land holdings historically bequeathed to these institutions. By transforming such land into valuable community resources, HBCUs can continue fostering growth and progress in their own backyard.

Heather Denne (Jackson State University)

“I'm very intentional about including the community that was here before Jackson State was forcibly moved to its location in 1903.”

Heather Denne
A view of a plaza area at Jackson State. There are a series of flags in two concentric circular patterns with a brick building on the other side of the circle from the viewer.

photo by: JSU/University Communications

View of Jackson State University Plaza with flags.

Jackson, Mississippi’s rich history resonated with Heather Denne. Fueled by an undergraduate experience at a predominantly white institution lacking in diversity of thought, Denne applied exclusively to HBCUs for graduate studies. She earned her master's and PhD in Urban and Regional Planning at Jackson State University (JSU). Today, she serves as the director of community engagement, bridging the gap between the university and the surrounding community. Denne is dedicated to preserving Mount Olive Cemetery, a once-neglected resting place for numerous African Americans instrumental in building the Jackson community, such as Jim Hill, a formerly enslaved man elected Mississippi secretary of state during Reconstruction.

Denne recognizes a struggle for HBCU administrations to grasp the benefits of preservation fully. She believes leveraging preservation knowledge for securing essential resources is vital to the future of Black institutions. Preserving places like Mount Olive Cemetery guarantees a chance for communities to reconnect with forgotten histories. Preservation is vital in protecting Black spaces and ensuring their traditions continue to be shaped and shared.

The devoted efforts of these preservationists demonstrate a true homecoming as they return home and invest in preserving the foundations of HBCU culture for the future. Stewarding these legacies maintains spaces for fathers like Gregory Vincent to guide their children, daughters like Madisyn Hunter to follow in their parent's footsteps, sons like Arthur Clement to return to their roots, brothers like Troy Glover to embrace their true selves, and teachers like Heather Denne to continue telling the full story.

Donate Today to Help Save the Places Where Our History Happened.

Donate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation today and you'll help preserve places that tell our stories, reflect our culture, and shape our shared American experience.

Brandon Bibby is a senior preservation architect with the National Trust's African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. He is an artist, activist, and architect raised in the plains of Arkansas, and as a multidiscipline researcher and designer Bibby is invested in questioning narrative, representation, and access in the built environment and its impacts on memory and behavior for marginalized communities. He is motivated by movement, memory, and culture in contemporary Black space.

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