The UNCF, also known as the United Negro College Fund, was founded on this day in 1944. According to the philanthropist organization, the UNCF has raised nearly $5 billion to help Black students achieve the next level of their education.
The UNCF was a joint effort co-founded by Tuskegee University president Frederick D. Patterson, educator and civil rights activist Mary McCleod Bethune, and activist William J. Trent. Over the course of two decades, Trent served as the UNCF’s executive director and orchestrated a concerted fundraising effort that attracted the philanthropic attentions of the white elite.
Famously, President John F. Kennedy, then a senator, donated the money he won for the Pulitzer Prize for his book, “Profiles in Courage,” directly to the fund. John D. Rockefeller was also said to be on the UNCF’s board up until his death in 1960. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was also a top donor to the fund.
In 1970, the UNCF selected attorney and President Bill Clinton adviser Vernon Jordan to run the organization. Jordan left the UNCF in 1971 to head the National Urban League. Other past presidents include William H. Gray, the first Black congressman to serve as the majority whip for the House of Representatives.
Alumni of the UNCF include a bevy of celebrities and figures of civil rights lore. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Alexis Herman, Samuel L. Jackson, and Spike Lee, among others have benefitted from the organization’s assistance.
In 1980, the UNCF launched an annual concert and fundraising telethon event with entertainer Lou Rawls heading the effort. Formely known as “Lou Rawls Parade Of Stars,” the event has been re-branded as “An Evening With Stars.”
In 2014, the UNCF found itself the focus of controversy again after a conservative moguls, The Koch Brothers gave the organization a $25 million dollar donation. This prompted a split with UNCF and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a well-known government worker’s union.
Dr. Michael Lomax is the current president and CEO of the UNCF.