The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) was founded on April 25, 1944 by Frederick Patterson, President of the Tuskegee Institute, and Mary McLeod Bethune, an advisor to the Franklin Roosevelt Administration, to provide a steady, consistent stream of funding to 27 financially struggling small historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) scattered across the south. It also hoped to support access to higher education for impoverished African American students by an appeal to the national conscience.
Early UNCF supporters included President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. The first annual fundraising effort generated $760,000, a sum that would be worth approximately $8.6 million in 2008 dollars. In 1959 Massachusetts Senator (and future President) John F. Kennedy donated the proceeds from his Pulitzer Prize winning book, Profiles in Courage, to the UNCF.
Between its founding in 1944 and 1970, the fundraising efforts of the UNCF were directed primarily by and toward influential whites such as John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who sat on the board until his death in 1960. Only in 1970 with the selection of Vernon Jordan did African Americans gain full control of the UNCF. The arrival of Jordan as president led to a dramatic increase in direct appeals to black Americans including especially graduates of the member colleges. Beginning in 1980, the organization enlisted singer Lou Rawls to lead an annual telethon, initially called the Lou Rawls Parade of Stars to raise money for UNCF scholarships. The annual telethons raised more than $200 million through 2006, the year of Rawlss death.
In 1972, Forest Long, an executive of the Young and Rubicam advertising agency, developed the now nationally recognized slogan, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” The UNCF motto became one of the most widely recognized slogans in advertising history.
The United Negro College Fund is an active supporter of black college attendance. In addition to funding for the now 39 member institutions, it