Sundance Review: ‘Tell Them We Are Rising’ Underscores the Legacy & Importance of Historically Black Colleges and Universities

To this day, education is not an inherent right. The effects of segregation are still deeply steeped in the Black community, and unless there is careful nurturing within the family home or by some particularly devoted educators, many Black people in this country have found themselves severely under and uneducated. Despite the lack of resources that are devoted to many public schools particularly in impoverished communities; Black people have always desired the opportunity to learn more about not only themselves but also the world around them. After all, is that not education’s purpose? 

In his documentary feature, “Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, Stanley Nelson tells the virtually untold story of the institutions that helped to redefine what it means to be Black in America. Beginning in the days of slavery when even teaching a slave to read could cost you your life no matter the color of your skin, Nelson opens his film by outlining what historian Marybeth Gasman labels as, the “brutality of ignorance.” White supremacists and plantation owners deeply feared uprisings should enslaved people become truly aware of the circumstances in which they were forced to live. Therefore, when Emancipation did come, the desire to read and learn spread like wildfire. It was as if, “the entire race awoke.” 


HBCU RisingChana Ewing