Stanley Nelson Delivers a Fascinating New Documentary About HBCUs
Stanley Nelson's new documentary on the legacy of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) takes its name from a scene describing General O.O. Howard, a White Union general and Howard University's namesake, talking to formerly enslaved students in the South. "He asked, 'What should I tell the people up North about the plight of the former slaves?'" narrates historian James Anderson in the film. "And 13-year-old Richard Robert Wright rose and said, 'Tell them we are rising.'" Wright would later found the HBCU that became Savannah State University.
Most of "Tell Them We Are Rising," which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah yesterday (January 23), focuses on this sense of triumph and progression. It features archival footage of HBCU students cheering during football games, marching at protests for different racial justice movements, celebrating commencements and forging lifelong bonds with one another. No film before this one explores the transformative role that HBCUs have played in building Black political and economic strength.