By Grace Austin

Toni Morrison

This Nobel Prize-winning author of classics like Song of Solomon and Beloved graduated from Howard University with a degree in English in 1953. A native of Lorain, Ohio, Morrison was a member of the historically black Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. She later returned to Howard to teach, where she also met her husband, a fellow professor.

Reverend Jesse Jackson

The civil rights activist and former presidential candidate began school at the University of Illinois, but later transferred to and graduated from North Carolina A&T in 1964. Jackson was a sociology major at the college. He also played quarterback and was elected student body president.

Jerry Rice

The Mississippi Valley State University graduate later became one of the most decorated wide receivers in NFL history. While studying at the HBCU in the early ’80s, Rice set records in football and was named to every All-American team. He later completed his degree seventeen years after leaving the school based in Itta Bena, Mississippi.

Herman Cain

Cain, at one time a 2012 Republican presidential hopeful, graduated from Morehouse College in 1967. He studied mathematics at the prestigious school and sang baritone in the glee club for four years. His political views were apparently acquired later, though. Said Cain of his college years, “I didn’t even know what a conservative or liberal was.”

Spike Lee

Shelton “Spike” Lee received his BA in Mass Communication from Morehouse in 1979, where his love of filmmaking
was nurtured. Lee has become a vocal advocate for HBCUs, saying to VIBE in 2012, “Being taught by African American faculty, people really took a deep, interest in educating. Morehouse gave me a great foundation.”

Alice Walker

Pulitzer Prize-winner and author of The Color Purple, Alice Walker entered Spelman College in 1961 on a full scholarship. It was there that she met Martin Luther King, Jr. She was involved in the civil rights movement during her collegiate years, inspired by an activist professor at Spelman.

Oprah Winfrey

Winfrey received a full scholarship to Tennessee State University after her performance in a national oratory contest. Studying communication, Winfrey left the HBCU after being offered a job as an anchor at the local CBS affiliate. Winfrey has famously given many scholarships to students at HBCUs.