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A Conversation with The President

The 20 times U.S. presidents have spoken at HBCUs

A full list of all the times presidents visited black college campuses

With President Barack Obama visiting historically black North Carolina A&T State University on Oct. 11 for An Undefeated Conversation with President Obama: Sports, Race and Achievement (10 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN app), we tracked down the 20 times sitting U.S. presidents have visited the campuses of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

Herbert Hoover

Howard, June 10, 1932: Commencement

“It is vital in a democracy that the public opinion upon which it rests shall be an informed and educated opinion. The Negro race comprises 10 percent of our population, and unless this 10 percent is developed proportionately with the rest of the population, it cannot pull its proper strength at the oars of our pressing problems of democracy.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Howard, Oct. 26, 1936

“Its founding, many years ago, as an institution for the American Negro was a significant occasion. It typified America’s faith in the ability of man to respond to opportunity regardless of race or creed or color.”

Harry Truman

Howard, June 13, 1953: Commencement

“It is no service to the country to turn away from the hard problems — to ignore injustice and human suffering. It is simply not the American way of doing things. Of course, there are always a lot of people whose motto is ‘Don’t rock the boat.’ They are so afraid of rocking the boat that they stop rowing. We can never get ahead that way. We can only drift with the current and finally go over the falls into oblivion with nothing accomplished.”

Lyndon B. Johnson

Howard, June 4, 1965: Commencement

“Freedom is not enough. You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: Now you are free to go where you want, and do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please. You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.”

Jimmy Carter

Cheyney State, May 20, 1979: Commencement

“Ours, yours and mine, is a very special generation, the generation that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was thinking of when he expressed his dream for America with an eloquence and a moral power that never will be forgotten.”

Ronald Reagan

Tuskegee, May 10, 1987: Commencement

“The civil rights movement earned the respect and gratitude of all good and decent Americans, even some who may at first have had reservations about what was happening. Yet changes in the law — and the political struggle itself — brought social progress that enormously strengthened the moral foundation of the United States.”

Howard, May 20, 1982

“This university has offered all Americans, and particularly our young black Americans, invaluable opportunities to develop their talents and skills, training them for service to their professions, their communities, and their nation. Howard is widely recognized as the largest and certainly one of the finest black universities in the world.”

George H.W. Bush

Hampton, May 12, 1991: Commencement

“We stand on the verge — if you look around the world you’ll understand this — we stand on the verge of a new age of freedom. If we build upon our strengths, if we join hands as a people, we will build a nation and a future unlike any ever seen in human history.”

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Alcorn State University, May 13, 1989: Commencement

“You see, this place has character. It is a university with a mission. And to paraphrase a new song that’s climbing the charts this month, this special, secluded college has been ‘the wind beneath your wings.’ ”

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Bill Clinton

Grambling, May 23, 1999: Commencement

“In so many ways, the story of this institution embodies the whole 20th century experience of African-Americans. In 1901 not a single public school in this part of Louisiana would welcome an African-American into its classes. But the visionary farmers of this community, the children and grandchildren of slaves, were determined to give their children the education and pride and power to rise above bigotry and injustice. And so, even though they didn’t have much, they scrounged around and raised some money and wrote a letter to Booker T. Washington, asking him to send a teacher to help build a school in the piney woods.”

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Morgan State, May 18, 1997: Commencement

“African-Americans have always been at the forefront of American science. This is nothing new. Nothing, not slavery, not discrimination, not poverty, nothing has ever been able to hold back their scientific urge or creative genius.”

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Philander Smith College, Sept. 27, 1997

“I have to say a special word of appreciation to the choir, because the choir was the first choir from an historically black college to sing at the presidential inauguration — mine, in 1992. And I thank you very much for that.”

Allen, March 29, 2000

“As long as the waving symbol of one American’s pride is the shameful symbol of another American’s pain, we still have bridges to cross in our country, and we’d better go on and get across them.”

George W. Bush

Tuskegee, April 19, 2006

“I appreciate the role that Tuskegee has had in the 20th century to break down racial barriers, to provide hope, and to help build a better America. What I’m here to talk about is the role Tuskegee will continue to play in the 21st century, and it is to prepare our students and our kids for the jobs of the 21st century. Tuskegee is a really important part of making sure the United States of America provides hope and opportunity for all people.”

Barack Obama

Morehouse, May 19, 2013: Commencement

“Nobody cares how tough your upbringing was. Nobody cares if you suffered some discrimination. And moreover, you have to remember that whatever you’ve gone through, it pales in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured — and they overcame them. And if they overcame them, you can overcome them, too.”

Howard, May 7: Commencement

“Be confident in your heritage. Be confident in your blackness.”


Hampton, May 9, 2010: Commencement

“All of you have a separate responsibility: to be role models for your brothers and sisters, to be mentors in your communities, and when the time comes, to pass that sense of an education’s value down to your children, a sense of personal responsibility and self-respect, to pass down a work ethic and an intrinsic sense of excellence that made it possible for you to be here today.”

Xavier, Aug. 29, 2010

“So because of all of you — all the advocates, all the organizers who are here today, folks standing behind me who’ve worked so hard, who never gave up hope — you are all leading the way toward a better future for this city with innovative approaches to fight poverty and improve health care, reduce crime, and create opportunities for young people. Because of you, New Orleans is coming back.”

Benedict College, March 6, 2015

“So as long as I’m president, we’re going to keep doing everything we can to make sure that young people like you can achieve your dreams. We can’t do it for you; you’ve got to do it yourselves. But we can give you the tools you need. We can give you a little bit of a helping hand and a sense of possibility and direction. You got to do the work, but we can make it a little bit easier for you.”

Lawson State, March 26, 2015

“It’s also great to be with students like those here at Lawson State, at community colleges. I’m proud of all of you. I’m proud of you making this investment in yourselves. What you’re doing takes effort and persistence. And it takes faith in the idea that no matter how you started, no matter where you come from, no matter what ZIP code you were born in, in America, if you work hard, you can get ahead.”

Martenzie Johnson is a senior writer for Andscape. His favorite cinematic moment is when Django said, "Y'all want to see somethin?"