President Donald Trump holds up the Historically Black Colleges and Universities HBCU Executive Order after signing it, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, in the Oval Office in the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP
Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP

UNCF calls for postponing college’s meeting with Trump

The United Negro College Fund wants to postpone next month’s conference between leaders of the nation’s historically black colleges and universities and the Trump administration until the White House takes some specific actions to show its commitment to the institutions.

The organization gave The Atlanta Journal-Constitution a two-page letter written Wednesday to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Andrew Bremberg, the White House domestic policy council director, making the request. The UNCF wrote it believes the conference should not be held until the Trump administration names a director of its White House Initiative on HBCUs and develops a “meaningful plan of action with concrete commitments to invest in and advance HBCUs.”

“At a critical time in our nation, and in the spirit of unity among our HBCUs, we believe this postponement would allow us to work together to develop a common agenda that will serve the best interests of our HBCUs, and especially our students,” said the letter, signed by its president, Michael Lomax.

White House official Omarosa Manigault Newman said in a statement Wednesday the conference will be held, adding Trump’s commitment to HBCUs remains “strong and unwavering.” She also said the White House will announce who will lead the initiative during the Sept. 17-19 conference.

The letter was written as the Congressional Black Caucus called for a cancellation of the meeting. U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, has also recommended the conference be postponed.

The UNCF provides more than $100 million a year in scholarships and advocates for HBCUs. Five of Its 37 member institutions are in Georgia. Clark Atlanta University president Ronald A. Johnson said through a spokeswoman Wednesday he does not plan to attend the White House conference, citing the UNCF’s concerns.

Two of the nation’s top HBCU’s, Spelman and Morehouse colleges, are in Atlanta. Spelman declined comment Wednesday. A request from the AJC to Morehouse for comment wasn’t answered.

A White House visit in February by several dozen HBCU presidents that included a brief meeting with President Donald Trump was widely panned afterward because it did not include commitments for additional funding. White House officials have pointed to an executive order Trump signed affirming his support for HBCUs as a starting point to additional help for the institutions.

Many HBCU supporters said they remained skeptical about Trump’s commitment to HBCUs after he said in May that a funding program for black college campuses may unconstitutionally allocate federal money on the basis of race.

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Staff Writer Tamar Hallerman contributed to this report.