Hi Reddit!

It’s Gene (GeeDee215) and Shereen (Mirage_E) here from NPR’s Code Switch, a team that reports on race, ethnicity and culture. We recently reported on Bluefield State, a historically black college in West Virginia, with a fascinating recent history ---- these days, it’s more than 90 percent white. (We know, right?)

We were wondering how it got this way, and so we headed to the campus on homecoming to find out. The story turned out to be pretty complicated and messy.

Starting at 2 p.m., we’ll be answering questions, so go ahead and get us warmed up with anything you want to know and we’ll talk to you shortly.


UPDATE 3:20 PM: This has been fun, y'all. We look forward to doing it again at some point soon!

Comments: 165 • Responses: 11  • Date: 

fa5334 karma

Was there a tipping point in time where the demographics shifted, or did it happen gradually?

GeeDee21578 karma

It was a little bit of both, actually. The college was created in the late 1890s for the children of black folks who came to the region to work the mines; those young people weren’t allowed to attend the segregated schools in the area. There wasn’t a single white student until the 1950s, when white folks coming back from Korea with G.I. Bill money started enrolling. At first it was a trickle, but by the late 1960s, the school was about half-black and half-white.

From 1966 to 1968, racial tensions at Bluefield State were mounting. In 1966, the state appointed Wendell Hardway to run the college — the first white president the institution had ever had. He promptly proceeded to hire 24 new instructors, all of whom were white. And he was the first Bluefield State president who didn’t live in Hatter Hall, the house in the center of campus named after the college’s black founder. This didn’t sit well with a lot of the black students and alumni, who thought the state was trying to change the school into something unrecognizable.

Then, in 1968, some radical black students bombed the gym. Hardway swiftly responded by shutting down the dorms. He said the bombing had been stoked by trouble-maker students from up North. But the dorms were almost all black — white people in the town wouldn’t rent to black kids — which meant that black kids suddenly had no place to stay.

The school essentially became a commuter school, and since West Virginia is one of the whitest states in the country (94 percent white), the campus started to look more and more like the state more broadly.

nottadude0 karma

94% white is ONE of the whitest states in America?! yikes

GeeDee2156 karma

Utah, Vermont, and Wyoming are all in the 90+ percent range, re: whiteness.

PettyNiwa22 karma

Why do you think race is still such an issue in America today?

GeeDee21554 karma

Think back to 60 years ago, pre-Brown v. Board of Education, when in many cases black folks weren’t even allowed to attend colleges or universities unless they were schools like Bluefield State. The middle of the 20th century was one of our nation’s most productive periods, and black folk were shut out of it by law and custom. They couldn’t buy homes or go to the colleges they wanted and couldn’t apply for jobs. We’re still dealing with the consequences of that — the wealth gap is the most obvious example.

Remember, this is in living memory. When we went to Bluefield State’s homecoming, there were alumni in attendance who were around during those pre-integration days. Schools like Bluefield State were vital to creating a black professional class, and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) still graduate a disproportionate amount of black people in STEM fields, teachers, lawyers and judges.

What we deal with all the time is that those longstanding historical realities as well as current disparities still very much affect the way people of different ethnic groups currently live.

hotpie16 karma

Do you have any comments on a federal judge's recent ruling that Maryland's higher education system is perpetuating segregation by copying programs from HBCUs?

GeeDee21511 karma

We actually reported on that ruling when it happened two weeks ago. The judge ruled that when the state’s traditionally white institutions (TWIs) created programs like those at the black institutions, they were hampering the state’s HBCUs’ chances of competing for prospective students. She said that the HBCUs had fewer resources and had fewer resources going back to the days of segregation; they’d have a harder time standing out unless they were offering unique courses or majors.

In a lot of ways, what’s happened at Maryland’s HBCUs is the mirror image of what happened at Bluefield State — the percentage of white folks at those schools reached double digits in the 1970s, but now those schools have essentially resegregated.

youhatemenow15 karma

what is their record in basketball?

GeeDee21519 karma

They were a paltry 4-23 last season.

(FWIW, the team has been overwhelmingly black, in recent years at least.

dupontcircle14 karma

What sort of federal benefits do they receive in terms of funding, grants, etc. as a HBCU?

GeeDee21522 karma

Bluefield State’s total budget is around $20 million. About a tenth of that budget comes from its designation as an HBCU.

The federal government designates schools as HBCUs if they were created with the primary purpose of educating black students before 1964. And once you’ve been grandfathered in, you have that status forever (or until they change the rules). That’s why a school like Bluefield State, which is 90 percent white, maintains its HBCU designation, while a school like Chicago State University, which after 1964 became overwhelmingly black, isn’t eligible for the federal support that goes to HBCUs.

minersbeach8 karma

Excellent story, you guys. I love the Code Switch stories. Please keep writing!

GeeDee2157 karma

Thank you for reading us, minersbeach!

sassXcore8 karma


GeeDee21522 karma

I first heard about it while doing a deep dive on HBCUs. As soon as I came across a stat about Bluefield State’s makeup, I told our boss, Matt Thompson. We were all collectively like, ”Wait? Word? What? How did that happen?"

mirage_e35 karma

And then when Gene mentioned this fascinating fact...I said, let’s do this as a story. And our fellow Code Switch correspondent, Karen Grigsby Bates said, “ya’ll should go over Homecoming, because that’s when alumni come back.” And, bam. Idea born. The only thing I DID NOT KNOW until I arrived in DC from LA to pick up Gene to drive to West Virginia, is that GENE DOES NOT DRIVE! NOR DOES HE PUMP GAS! So, I had to drive 5 hours there and back and didn’t think to teach him to pump gas until the last couple hours of the trip.

GeeDee21525 karma

But I was open to learning, Shereen. That’s the important part.

mirage_e27 karma

Yeah, but, you didn’t ask to learn until I offered to teach you first. Mmmmmhmmmm.

GeeDee21542 karma

That’s because you’re an independent woman who don’t need no man and I respect your mind and abilities.

king_of_lies-2 karma

Hamburgers or hotdogs?

GeeDee2153 karma