Book Reviews

Jelani M. Favors. Shelter in a Time of Storm: How Black Colleges Fostered Generations of Leadership and Activism. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2019. 368p. Hardcover, $29.95 (ISBN 978-1-4696-4833-0).

Book cover for Shelter in a Time of Storm by Jelani M. Favors

Shelter in a Time of Storm by Jelani M. Favors explores the story of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and how they fostered student activism. In some ways this critical, but often overlooked, aspect of HBCU history has been part of my own understanding of the schools since childhood. I attended preschool and elementary school on the campus of South Carolina State University (SCSU), an HBCU in Orangeburg, South Carolina. My school lay in sight of Smith-Hammond-Middleton Memorial Center, which was named in honor of three students—Henry Smith (19), Samuel Hammond Jr. (18), and Delano Middleton (17)—shot and killed by South Carolina Highway Patrolmen during a 1968 student protest of a segregated bowling alley. The “Orangeburg Massacre,” as it came to be known, also resulted in injuries to 28 other protesters, all students from SCSU. While the sit-ins staged by the Greensboro Four or organizations like Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) might be the most well-known example of HBCU student activism, the truth is that the tradition of protest goes back much further. For those familiar with HBCUs or those with no prior knowledge of Black colleges, Shelter provides a powerful, insightful examination of the critical role HBCUs have played in fostering generations of foot soldiers in the struggle for freedom.

Favors, an Associate Professor of History at Clayton State University, introduces two characteristics of HBCU education that helped empower students and cultivate activism: the “second curriculum” and “communitas.” According to Favors, the second curriculum can be defined “a pedagogy of hope grounded in idealism, race consciousness, and cultural nationalism.” This second curriculum was nurtured by casual discussions between students, lessons from faculty, and lectures from prominent visiting leaders. This nontraditional learning and community building was integral to the HBCU experience and was only able to take root within the shelter of Favors’ second characteristic.

The physical campus space that Favors refers to as “the only noncollapsible space for African Americans” constituted a “communitas,” Favors’ second characteristic. Favors writes, “communitas offers a conceptual framework to describe the vital space that Black colleges provided, offering shelter from the worst elements of white supremacist society.” The space therefore created an environment where faculty and students sought to instill the second curriculum in one another.

To support his thesis, Favors explores the themes of second curriculum and communitas at seven different HBCUs: the Institute for Colored Youth (ICY) (now Cheyney University of Pennsylvania), Tougaloo College, Bennett College, Alabama State University, Jackson State University, Southern University, and North Carolina A&T State University. Each chapter focuses on an individual college and provides institutional and socio-political background, examines how administration and faculty shaped the second curriculum on their campuses, and then explores resulting activism. Favors studies each institution at a specific time period, moving the reader forward through the history of Black activism from the antebellum and reconstruction periods, the nadir of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the New Negro Era, Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and into the Black Power Movement.

In its epilogue, Shelter in a Time of Storm shifts focus from individual institutions to take a broader look at the current state of HBCUs and decline of activism and the second curriculum. Favors notes that the second curriculum and historic activist traditions are currently being undermined by three major forces. Two of these forces, “brain drain” to the perceived greener pastures of predominantly white institutions (PWI), along with the historic and continued underfunding are probably to be expected. What might surprise many readers is a third force working against the second curriculum at HBCUs: the rise of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics fields, better known as STEM. According to Favors, the lure of high-paying STEM jobs has steered students away from the humanities departments and courses that have traditionally nurtured activism. Additionally, as financially troubled institutions shift investments into more lucrative STEM fields, the campus units and departments based in the humanities are marginalized and allowed to further atrophy.

Shelter in a Time of Storm is an incredibly well-researched work. Favors draws from a variety of sources including manuscript collections, both archival and self-conducted interviews, and secondary sources. The work is especially well served by the extensive use of student newspapers. Here, periodicals with their open discussion on politics and race consciousness give clear and strong support to his thesis that the second curriculum was never hidden but built into the fabric of HBCU education.

The work was also greatly enhanced by the decision to highlight activism at multiple institutions across time rather than focusing on a single college or university. Taken together, the studies of each institution give the reader a better understanding of the versatility of the second curriculum and how the unique socio-political milieu of each university shaped the ensuing activism. For example, in chapter 3 we see that, at Bennett College, a private women’s college in a relatively racially moderate Greensboro, NC, students were free to join radical organizations like the National Negro Congress and encouraged to engage in boycotts against racist establishments. This is in sharp contrast to the situation on the ground in chapter 6 at Southern University, a state-related HBCU in Baton Rouge, LA. Here, while the second curriculum energized scores of student activists, the school administration, led by university president Felton Clark, expelled those engaged in direct action protest at the behest of the state’s governor.

While Shelter does not speak specifically to the role libraries played in fostering the second curriculum, the two are intrinsically linked. HBCU libraries and archives have long been home to vast collections on Black history and culture. Exposure to these collections helped elevate race consciousness at Black colleges and allowed the second curriculum to take hold. Further, as a former HBCU librarian, I have seen firsthand how that same shift in resources toward STEM has hurt libraries. This is especially true of special collections and archives, which, as bastions of humanities and history, often rank low on institution priority lists. The result, as Favors notes in his acknowledgments, is that HBCU archives are “terribly understaffed, woefully underfunded, and criminally underappreciated.” But all is not lost. In a 2019 interview with Fernanda Zamundio-Suaréz for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Favors was asked how the leaders of struggling HBCUs could get across the message of social activism. His reply was that they can do so by embracing history. Perhaps one day university presidents and administrations will heed Favors’ advice and embrace the histories housed in their special collections and archives. Then one can hope these campus gems will be given the recognition they deserve.

Shelter in a Time of Storm is a valuable text for anyone interested in the history of higher education, activism, and historically Black colleges and universities. In the current era of expanded partnerships between PWI and HBCU libraries, I would consider Shelter essential reading. For any HBCU-PWI partnership to succeed, it’s important for librarians at PWIs to understand that Black colleges are not just lingering vestiges of racism and segregation, but that these institutions have historically and will continue to serve a critical role in society.—Meaghan Alston, University of North Carolina

Copyright Meaghan Alston

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