For the Culture: It’s Time for HBCU Homecomings

It's time to learn the true meaning of homecoming at historically black colleges and universities.

October 6, 2019
8 mins read

Historically, homecomings at HBCU was intended for alumni to show their school spirit during a football game. Since the 1920s, that simple college event has evolved into a seven-day experience.

An HBCU homecoming is more than attending a football game before heading back to the dorm to cram for upcoming midterms. The weekly event is only held once a year but is taken seriously by the student body. At an HBCU, having a successful homecoming is all about gaining a love for the institution by embracing its culture. Through history, style and music, students develop a sense of unity and pride for their historically black college or university


After months of unmanageable work hours and early-morning lectures, homecoming gives students the opportunity to unwind and enjoy the playful side of college life. There will be parties. There will be parades and most importantly, there will not be class.

Some might think that cancelling class for the week defeats the purpose of advanced education, but learning involves more than laboring through an overpriced textbook. Experiencing the culture of the institution is a learning tool just as much as any class assignment.

For instance, homecoming is a big deal for alumni just as much as it is for current students. Graduates travel miles across the country to come back to celebrate their alma mater. Alumni are eager to see how the school has improved since their college days.

As a result, students have the opportunity to meet well-established graduates who are willing to share their (college) life story. By speaking with alumni, young and energetic students grow a love for the institution and may provoke efforts to enhance it for the next class.

The obvious common factor between alumni and current college students is that they are living on a legacy that their black predecessors built for black education when it was denied elsewhere.

The second Morrill Act of 1890 required that land-grant institutions be provided for black students if denied college admission. Homecoming is a celebration of black history and an opportunity to rejoice in the present.

For centuries, African Americans were not given the right to advance their education and now that black people have surmounted such tribulations, HBCU students should rejoice at any opportunity.

Eighteenth-century philanthropist Richard Humphrey shared Councill’s vision when he granted $10,000 to 13 Quakers to create an institution that educated Americans of African descent — Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, the first HBCU in America.

In 1875, William Hooper Councill founded the Huntsville Normal School, which is known as Alabama A&M University today. Councill was a former slave who had a desire and vision for descending generations of African Americans to pursue higher education.

Homecoming helps undergraduates and alumni realize that rich history breeds a legacy. Although classes might be cancelled, the essentials of homecoming can evoke the pursuit of education more than any professor.

There is no such thing as an HBCU homecoming without black music. Such art is showcased at none other than the football halftime show. It is guaranteed that the university band will rock halftime by playing instrumentals from today’s popular hip-hop and R&B music as well as the genres’ relevant throwback songs.

The colleges takes it even further while showcasing African American dance styles. One of the most anticipated events is the Greek step show. Each Greek sorority and fraternity puts on an entertaining yet competitive step dance, a percussive dance in which members use their entire bodies to produce rhythm.

The show might seem like a simple crowd-hyping performance but the step show mirrors a significant part of black culture. Besides the fact that stepping derives from Caribbean and African culture, the national Pan-Hellenic comprises nine Greek organizations that have been established by graduates of HBCUs over a century ago. The step show preserves the black performing arts culture, which is why it is one of the main events for the week.

It doesn’t have to be homecoming week at an HBCU for the students to express their style. Rocking your best outfits is a form of self-expression. It shouldn’t be surprising that the student body goes all out for homecoming.

Many students plan several outfits months in advance. With the amount of time and energy invested into wardrobe, you would think that it’s an award show. 

Remember, homecoming is about celebrating the culture and history of your university. Students are proud of the legacy they are leaving and want to showcase that through style that is not at all different from a Met Gala or a runway show for Paris Fashion Week. If models and celebrities have no shame, then neither should students.

With this planning comes a friendly competition of who can dress the best. Now, there is no pressure to dress up; however, if a student does decide to compete for the most likes on Instagram, they have to give it all they got, or as the fashion world says, “Apply Pressure!” and never let up.

What were once built on slave plantations are now accredited institutions dedicated to the black and educated. HBCU homecomings will always have a significant distinction due to the reason behind the celebrations.

In fact, many non-HBCU goers travel to the colleges just for the sake of participating in unforgettable festivities. It’s important to know the reason behind the work that is put into homecoming. Arguably, homecoming is just as important as attending class. Yes, it’s a fun outlet before midterm week yet the ultimate mission is to spread love and create unity.

Whether you are a Greek eager to stroll through the crowded after-parties or a 20-year alumni who has been donating to the school since graduation, homecoming is a chance for everyone to learn and grow.

From Claflin University to Xavier University, young black minds will soon take a break from the books and enjoy a well-deserved week full of culture and love. It is all positivity at an HBCU homecoming. With the major social issues regarding African Americans today, HBCU homecomings brings hope that change will come.

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