When John Moseley, the president of Lincoln University, recently discussed his vision of the Missouri institution with a local newspaper, he described the college as having dual identities. He noted that it’s a historically Black university, founded by Black soldiers who fought in the Civil War, that draws Black students from a handful of major metropolitan areas around the country. He also described it as a “regional” university rooted in central Missouri, a predominantly white area, which has led to a student body that is about 40 percent white.
The description of Lincoln as a “regional” institution with a double role rubbed Sherman Bonds, the president of the Lincoln University National Alumni Association, the wrong way and chafed against his own perception of his alma mater. He wrote an essay in response titled “A Framework for Collective Dialogue,” voicing concern about the president’s emphasis on recruiting students from the region and arguing that it minimized the university’s legacy as a historically Black university and its broad national appeal.
“The tone of the narrative was perplexing,” Bonds wrote in the essay this month. “It presented the African American ‘space’ as a renegotiable platform that could be reduced to the status of a regional college, which diminishes the institution’s national and international prominence.” Bond called the comparison to a regional college “an insult.”
He said he got positive feedback on the essay from fellow alumni via email and on social media. But he fears his commentary may have been misunderstood by local media after an article in the News Tribune implied he and Moseley don’t “see eye to eye” on the university’s identity. He doesn’t consider himself to be at odds with the president, but he believes they have a difference in perspective. While he sees nothing wrong with the university continuing to enroll large percentages of local white students, he disagrees with the notion that drawing these students gives Lincoln a second mission or identity.
“It doesn’t affect the identity of the institution,” he said. “You recruit from wherever you want to recruit from and whoever you get to come … The institution is a historical Black college and university founded by the 62nd and 65th Colored Infantries. That doesn’t change. It’s a Black university—and you’re welcome to come.”
For his part, Moseley believes Lincoln’s diversity does create dual identities that can co-exist.
“There are those, primarily from the metro areas, who choose Lincoln because we are an HBCU and they’re looking for the traditional HBCU experience, which I have a vast amount of appreciation for,” Moseley, who is white, said in an interview. “But for us, there’s also a number of commuter students from all races that attend the institution because of our value, our affordability, the quality of education that they receive and the fact that it is close to their home, so it comes at even greater cost savings for the student.”
Bonds says the marketing of the university should focus on its history as one of the oldest HBCUs in the country and its national reputation, an approach he believes naturally “encompasses the region” but doesn’t characterize the university as a central Missouri–serving institution.
“To suggest we need to lift up the region as an identity crisis is, to me, unnecessary,” he said.
Rhonda Chalfant, chair of the education committee of the Missouri NAACP and vice president of the Sedalia chapter, said the state’s and region’s fraught racial history, especially in terms of educational opportunities, is a relevant backdrop of the current discussions about Lincoln.
She noted that prior to desegregation, school districts were either required to have a Black school if there were at least 20 Black children in the district or to bus the students to the nearest Black school. In practice, educational opportunities for Black children varied widely depending on where they lived, she said.
“Some towns were willing to provide elementary education but not high school education,” she said. “Some towns were willing to provide vocational education but nothing else to their Black students. Some towns simply didn’t provide education at all.”
Meanwhile, Black students had to fight for admission to universities in the state. For example, a Black prospective student sued the University of Missouri to…