Educational Organizations

What organization has as its slogan “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”?

The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) began on April 24, 1944 in response to the need to address economic conditions on private black college campuses. It aimed to coordinate the fund-raising efforts of forty-one private, accredited, four-year schools. After black colleges were founded in the 1800s, they received some support from religious and charitable groups. By the end of the century, however, funding from such groups had dwindled; fortunately, new groups or philanthropists emerged and lent support to these colleges. Northern industrialists like George Foster Peabody, Andrew Carnegie, and Julius Rosenwald were among the leading supporters. Later John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Massachusetts senator John F. Kennedy became key supporters. As funds from philanthropists dwindled, Tuskegee Institute president Frederick D. Patterson called on presidents of the private black colleges to pool their resources and raise money together. At that time Patterson, Mary McLeod Bethune, and presidents of other historically black colleges coordinated their fund-raising efforts. A year earlier, Patterson came up with the idea for the fund and urged other members of the incorporating group to raise money through a collective “appeal to the national conscience.” This fund-raising agency now consists of thirty-nine members from private and fully accredited black colleges. UNCF began an annual televised fund-raising event called Lou Rawls Parade of Stars, later called “An Evening of Stars,” and showcased member colleges as well as students who benefitted from UNCF funding. The organization provides information on educational programs, administers scholarships, and offers programs supported by corporate bodies and foundations. Native American, Latino, and Asian students currently receive scholarship support. UNCF also established the Institute for Capacity Building, a grants-awarding initiative that helps small colleges and universities expand their network of donor support. Located in Fairfax, Virginia, the organization continues to contribute significantly to the survival of black higher education. In 1972 Forest Long coined the phrase “A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” and since then UNCF has used the phrase as its slogan.

UNCF founder Frederick D. Patterson (1901–1988), a veterinarian, also founded the nation’s first and only black veterinary school at Tuskegee Institute (now University). Until his retirement in 1953, he served as president of Tuskegee for twenty-five years. Patterson was born in Washington, D.C., and graduated from Iowa State University in 1923 with a degree in veterinary medicine. After teaching at Virginia State College (now University), he returned to Iowa and obtained his master’s degree in veterinary medicine. He joined Tuskegee’s faculty in 1932 and established a friendship with researcher George Washington Carver that lasted until Carver died. Patterson continued his education at Cornell University and returned to Tuskegee with his doctorate in bacteriology; he was the first Tuskegee faculty member to earn the terminal degree. While president of Tuskegee, he established the Commercial Aviation program and trained Tuskegee students as pilots. The program became well-known for training the group of black military pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen. After he left Tuskegee, Patterson became president of the Phelps Stokes Fund in New York City and remained there until 1970. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on June 23, 1987.


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