Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

T. Wayne Parent


In United States v. Fordice (1992), the Supreme Court declared that racially nondiscriminatory admissions and hiring policies alone failed to satisfy the state of Mississippi's "affirmative duty" to dismantle a previously de jure system of segregated higher education. However, the justices declined to define precisely what the state must do to satisfy its constitutional obligations, leaving in its wake a host of unresolved questions. Of particular concern to many African Americans is the fact that the future status of public black universities was left in the balance. Using a case study approach, this dissertation argues that higher education desegregation cannot be understood apart from the Brown decision and the larger struggle of African Americans to achieve the full rights of American citizenship. It was found that: (1) though African Americans have a unique history of slavery and racial segregation, they have adhered to, and used, the same principles from the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in their struggles for equality; (2) the legal struggles for desegregation represent a classic example of the faith of blacks in the liberal tradition; (3) though both blacks and whites share the same liberal creed, they have come to their faith through very different historical paths. These very different historical experiences create fundamental ideological disputes between blacks and whites over the legitimate role of the federal government in race policy; (4) these different historical perspectives complicate the issue of desegregation in higher education, and particularly the question of whether black colleges should be publicly supported or discontinued; (5) because the Creed purportedly embodies universal, transcendent truths, it tends to delegitimize arguments rooted in history and culture--the very justifications most often relied upon by African Americans for the continuation of black colleges (as well as other race-based public policies). Consequently, historical and cultural differences between blacks and whites raise basic questions about whether the American Creed is an adequate prism with which to view political problems associated with race.