Stillman, Alabama Football Punctuates Tale of Inequity in Tuscaloosa
Courtesy: Kirby Lee (USA Today)
Courtesy: Kirby Lee (USA Today)

The Alabama Crimson Tide rolled Monday night to a fourth national college football championship in the last seven years, galvanizing millions across the state and its racial boundaries around the latest stamp in the NCAA football record books.

The game and its outcome are exciting enough to wash Tuscaloosa County and the UA campus over in celebration, and plenty of money coming in from renewed sponsorships, television deals, donations from alumni and revenues from increased applications and new students. 

But in Tuscaloosa there’s another, sadder football story with implications reaching far beyond the impact of competition and the paydays a school can earn through winning. Just three miles away and a little over a month ago, a private HBCU dropped its football program, citing mounting costs and declining enrollment as the immediate reason for slashing its athletic department to just men’s and women’s basketball. 

Alabama is state-supported, predominantly white, and historically built around the success and exposure of its football program. And despite its past and present issues with racial tolerance and equity, the U of A continues to attract a dominant share of the loyalty and goodwill from top black athletes around the country, and top black students in the state and surrounding region.  

Stillman College is tuition-dependent, extends little brand recognition outside of Alabama’s HBCU culture, and like many private HBCUs, today finds itself in a mad scramble to find students and to make their programs attractive and competitive against larger black colleges and extra-large PWIs. 

But its not the University of Alabama thriving and Stillman struggling that tells the story of inequity in Tuscaloosa, the State of Alabama, the South, or the nation. It’s the fact that we can again be so easily distracted by what resources look like, and what winning looks like, that we can so easily ignore the cataclysmic losses black people and our communities are taking as a result. Tuscaloosa, a county with just over 220,000 residents and a 34-percent black population is a place where black folks are 18-percent less likely to own a home, eight-percent more likely to attend a segregated public school, 12 percent less-likely to have a college degree and 10-percent more likely to give premature birth to a child than white residents. 

Black unemployment in Tuscaloosa is 13 percent, more than double the rate of white unemployment. Black folks comprise 31 percent of the county’s poor, 20 percent more than its white residents. Black children living in poverty is at 40 percent, five times more than the rate for white children. 

And the institution created to address these disparities, the school which is best equipped to deliver the job training, cultural infusion and education to draft new thinking and new realities for Tuscaloosa’s black population, is in real danger of closing. Some may say that the U. of Alabama can deliver these solutions, but the truth is that if it could, or wanted to, Stillman would’ve been closed a long time ago, and these disparities would have vanished along with it.

Is that the fault of black folks not being attuned to Stillman’s value? Is that the fault of racist white folks making anti-black policy and funding decisions independent of consideration for Stillman and schools like Stillman? Is it both? 

No matter where the fault lies, it remains a sad reality against a backdrop of America’s national problem with race and the economic and political realities attached to it. And by the time we realize that the problem needs immediate resolution, we’re about seven years too late in our ability to direct resources and political influence to Stillman and its dwindling potential. 

But four titles in seven years at Alabama? We’re here for that. Roll Tide – even if black folks get caught up and washed away in it right before our eyes. 


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14 comments
  1. Great commentary and Stillman may be better off if it was a public school but that still would not solve the years of systematic racism that exist in Alabama and the lack of value they have with Stillman a private HBCU. Regardless said day when any of our HBCU’s loose anything whether its athletics or academics, because we as HBCU advocates know that is the master plan in most southern states and that is do erase the history, culture and legacy of anything African-American especially our educational institutions.

  2. This is an awesome article and so very true! All of the money is being spent down on the University of Alabama and out by the mall, in Northport and anywhere whites live and breed. But, check out the Westside and Alberta City where most Black stay! The shopping centers consists of Piggly Wiggly, Family Dollar, Dollar General and Beauty Supply Stores. SMH, King did all this for nothing~ Taking us right back to plantation workers.

    1. Since it seems to have passed you, I’ll try to explain.

      Football is an example of the support and success of both Alabama and Stillman, with UA trending positively, while SC is trending negatively. But since we pay so much attention and hold so much loyalty to UA, Stillman struggles in spite of being a potential resource to address racial inequities in Tuscaloosa specifically.

      Hope this helps. Thanks for reading.

  3. SC’s problem lies in alumni support. I remember the last two times they played ASU in the turkey day. The visitor side of the stadium was near vacant. That’s just from a football standpoint.

  4. How about the incompetent President Millet at Stillman. In spring 2015, forced athletic teams to cancel all non-conference games home & away because he did not want to pay for officials, travel, meals, and the like.

    University employees (full time, part time, volunteer) who travel with the teams do not get per diem to eat on the road, only the athletes.

    Summer of 2015 he cut 2M of SC funding to the athletic budget with most staffers presented with 20-25% reductions of salary.

    The sports that were cut were not notified until after the media broke the news, poor communication is a theme of the Millet administration. SC really needs to look at leadership and determine who should be in charge, Millet does NO fundraising for the school and hamstrings efforts within athletics to self-fund some of the other sports.

  5. This article is right on point! It is so heartbreaking that no matter the level of racism at the University of Alabama, our alumni and non-alumni take great pride in Hollering Roll Tide and purchasing the Alabama wear. The thing that hurts me more is that Nick Saban has a muzzle on the black players and they are never heard or seen saying a work about racism on the campus. I am a proud Stillmanite, and I know we ARE OUR WORST ENEMY.

  6. Sadly there is poor leadership on the campus. As a former employee, the President had not experience ever leading a school and was a last choice candidate because the college could not afford to do a real search and hire after Dr. McnNealey vacated the position. He has proven to be inept and in some instances a coward when it comes to dealing with how to run a college. He has never been a fundraiser and gives little back to the school to support the efforts. He also allowed someone who with a Bachelors degree to handle fundraising with no proven record. If the alumni want to maintain their institution, it’s time for them to stand up.

  7. Great article. There are so many irons in the fire with this article. We can’t go back, so we move forward. What the current HBCUs need to do is recruit in the same places the PWIs recruit. To stay open means students/money. The powers that be need to make offers to All the high school students. The stay open word for HBCUs is diversify. NC A&T has a great Engineering program go after the top students, HU has a good nursing/pharmacy school seek that top student, NSU has a good school of social work, music, communications, Howard has a great medical program. If the HBCUs go hard they could maybe survive 30, 40. 50 more years. We needed a plan in place once integration started to keep our HBCUs open. There was no plan. That doesn’t mean we point fingers, however; we put another plan in place.

  8. If you’re going to write an article like this, you have to compare apples to apples. The University of Alabama is a public university. Stillman is private. Moreover, although Stillman was founded by the Presbyterian Church, it is my understanding that the PCUSA no longer provides significant financial support. Thus, Stillman, like many small private HBCUs, struggles to maintain such things as athletic programs. Yes, it is located in the same city as UA, but that’s the only similarity. Are any of Alabama’s public HBCUs in danger of cutting football? No, they’re not. In fact, both A&M and State have relatively new on-campus football stadiums.

    Yes, I am a Bama grad, but my family has primarily matriculated from HBCUs, with Stillman being one of them. Stillman could and should provide a much needed source of education for the Black residents of Tuscaloosa and surrounding areas, but let’s deal in economic reality. Stillman’s tuition for 2014-2015 was about $13,500 for the year. That is absolutely excellent, and well below many other private institutions in the state (including Tuskegee, which was $18,600). However, that is still $4,000 a year more than Alabama. Let’s keep it real– if college is already a struggle financially, but you can qualify academically for any of them, are you really going to settle for paying 4 grand more?

    I would have loved to see Stillman’s football program survive, but not at the expense of the entire institution.
    Peace.

  9. The survival of an institution is Leadership. Stillman took a chance on someone with no leadership or fundraising experience and are now paying the consequences. Because of that lack leadership, Millet was not able to surround himself with people who had gained experience in the field. He was a professor. I am sure the applicant pool was stronger than that, but you also get what you pay for when you don’t vet the process. I have a great love for Stillman and certainly don’t want to see if closed, but if the direction does not change and a real leader is not put in place, the writing is on the wall.

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