This Month in SEC History: February 1979

Listen to this Post via Text-to-Speech Narration

by Mike Stroud

The UCC’s commitment to racial justice and opportunities for all is by no means something recent. It extends back decades to the work of the American Missionary Association planting churches and schools in the Congregational tradition throughout the Southern U.S. By the late 20th century, six colleges remained standing: Huston-Tillitson in Austin, Texas; Dillard in New Orleans; LeMoyne-Owen in Memphis; Fisk in Nashville; Tougaloo in Mississippi; and Talladega in Alabama.

When activist groups approached UCC officials during the twilight of the Civil Rights movement about establishing an “all-Black” university, the officials saw it as a call and opportunity to help the struggling institutions, many of whom had low endowments and could make capital improvements only with great difficulty. Integration of much of the rest of American higher education also negatively impacted the schools, as was the case with other Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Thus was born the 17/76 Achievement Fund to raise several million dollars for these six colleges (and to a lesser degree, the United Church Board for World Ministries). Extending from about 1973 to 1976, churches made pledges and paid them to an extensive network of coordinators throughout the country.

The February 1979 edition of The Southeast News reported that, through late 1978, $9,209,411 ($43,038,742 in 2023 money) had been remitted to the campaign. Southeast Conference congregations, within whose territory three of the colleges were located, gave some $65,690 ($306,992 in 2023 money). According to records, some 23 of the approximately 80 churches then in the Conference gave to 17/76.

The only other nationwide funds drive in the UCC’s history that could potentially rival 17/76 was the “Make A Difference” initiative in the early 1990s. It rested on a sense of high morale and purpose that was the legacy of the UCC’s racial justice orientation.