America’s colleges and universities have a shameful secret: they have never given Black people a fair chance to succeed. From its inception, our higher education system was not built on equality or accessibility but on educating—and prioritizing—white students. Black students have always been an afterthought. While governments and private donors funnel money into majority white schools, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other institutions that have high enrollments of Black students are struggling to survive, with state legislatures siphoning away federal funds that are legally owed to these schools. In The State Must Provide, Adam Harris reckons with the history of a higher education system that has systematically excluded Black people from its benefits.
Harris weaves through the legal, social, and political obstacles erected to block equitable education in the United States, studying the Black Americans who fought their way to an education, pivotal Supreme Court cases like Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education, and the government’s role in creating and upholding a segregated education system. He explores the role that Civil War–era legislation intended to bring agricultural education to the masses had in creating the HBCUs that have played such a major part in educating Black students when other state and private institutions refused to accept them.
The State Must Provide is the definitive chronicle of higher education’s failed attempts at equality and the long road still in front of us to remedy centuries of racial discrimination—and poses a daring solution to help solve the underfunding of HBCUs. Told through a vivid cast of characters, The State Must Provide examines what happened before and after schools were supposedly integrated in the twentieth century and why higher education remains broken.
Adam Harris is an award-winning journalist. He is currently a staff writer at The Atlantic covering national politics. Harris is the author of The State Must Provide, a narrative history of racial inequality in higher education, published by Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins. He was previously a reporter at the Chronicle of Higher Education, covering federal education policy and historically black colleges and universities. Before joining The Chronicle, he worked at ProPublica and has been a National Fellow at New America. He was named to the 2021 Forbes 30 Under 30 list, and his writing has appeared on BBC, Bleacher Report, and EBONY Magazine. Adam is currently working on his second book, Is This America?, a history of the South’s role in politics and how the region shapes us as a nation—but not always in the ways we assume it does, which will be published by Pantheon.