When you are a freshman at an HBCU the first thing they teach you is to respect the Yard. Do not walk on the grass! That’s not just a trivial rule. On the campus of Morehouse, the university’s esteemed President Dr. Benjamin E. Mays and his wife Sadie Gray Mays are buried on campus in front of Graves Hall. The Yard is sacred ground.
But the Yard has also been celebrated in film, television, and music videos. During the six season run of the groundbreaking NBC sitcom A Different World (1987-1993), which took place at the fictionalized HBCU Hillman College, enrollment at historically Black colleges grew by 24.3 percent, which was 44 percent better than all higher education. The Yard has become mainstream.
And yet the Yard is still a place of regal pageantry where the school marching band is as celebrated as star athletes. It’s where a diverse background of kids from around the country and across the globe will experience Black Greek life for the first time. The Yard is the soul of the HBCU.
As colleges across the country reopen their campuses, let’s look back at why this unique meeting spot has become not only an indelible part of Black history, but popular culture. Here are five reasons why the Yard continues to be a source of pride for Black America and beyond.
1. Homecoming is Litty
All homecomings are not created equal. While at other colleges the much anticipated fall event can come off as a pedestrian exercise in school spirit, on the Yard, homecoming is the life force of HBCU culture. It’s more than just an excuse for students and alumni to return for a jam-packed week of parties and tailgating for the big game. Whether you are on the campuses of Howard University, Hampton, Florida A&M, Morehouse, Spellman, Clark, Morris Brown, Tuskegee or Grambling, during homecoming week some of the most memorable happenings take place on the Yard.
During homecoming you will undoubtedly see a beautiful mix of people of all shades, ages, and social backgrounds. From the crowd-igniting Black Greek step shows and prodigious barbecue plates to red cups of dark and clear libations and star-studded concerts, the Yard is poppin’.
2. It’s the birthplace of major social and political movements
HBCUs have produced some of the most prolific activists, thought leaders and outspoken poets and authors in American history from W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis to Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, and Alice Walker. You can’t talk about the fight for Black rights and economic empowerment during America’s current racial reckoning without the legacy of historically Black colleges. Many movement-shifting social and political events took place here. The Yard is embedded in the struggles and triumphs of the African-American experience.
3. Probates represent
Black Greek life is deep. It’s the reason why probate season, the time of year when old heads return to campus to witness the newest members of such esteemed African-American fraternities and sororities as Alpha Phi Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Omega Psi Phi, Kappa Alpha Psi, Alpha Kappa Alpha, and Zeta Phi Beta, is such an important fixture on the Yard. Neos step and stroll in intricate formations as they are welcomed into the brotherhood and sisterhood for life. Yet never forget that these storied HBCU organizations started in the early 1900s when Black students were barred from joining segregated white Greek sets. The Divine Nine, as they are known on the Yard, continue to make history.
4. You can watch the hottest step shows
For many people across the globe their first sighting of a Greek step show was in Spike Lee’s 1988 landmark HBCU musical School Daze. The artform of stepping, in which Black sororities and fraternities perform percussive dance routines, is as much a part of Black culture as soul food, jazz, box braids and Beyoncé. For decades, HBCUs have hosted some of the most fierce and entertaining step show competitions on the Yard. It’s no game.
5. The diversity and beauty of Blackness
Nowhere else is the beauty and brilliance of Blackness more evident than on the Yard where an unmitigated drip permeates from folks around the world from Atlanta and Trinidad to the UK. At HBCUs, fashion is effortlessly fly, innovative. Hairstyles are more than just trendy statements. Tapered fades, dark Caesars, afros, head wraps, micro braids, Technicolored weaves, natural curls, and swirly corn-rows...the Yard is the Blackest, coolest place on earth.