HBCUs continued to grow and thrive in the United States throughout the early 1900s with the help of land bequeathed to them by the Morrill Land Grant Act. Around the 1930s, one HBCU had a law school (Howard University School of Law), two HBCUs had medical schools (Howard University College of Medicine & Meharry Medical College), and three had graduate degree programs. In order to help more black students go further in their education, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) filed several lawsuits demanding that different states make plans to improve HBCUs or to give black students the opportunity to attend institutions designated for white students which had more funding and resources. HBCUs were not up to par with the other institutions in the country and people sought change. Many of the cases filed by the NAACP aimed to help stimulate improvements for black schools were won at that time.
Historically black colleges and universities were not only instrumental in educating many African-Americans; they also played a huge role in community and political activities during a time when social issues in the United States were very prevalent. The goal of the civil rights movement was to end racial segregation and injustice against African-Americans, particularly in the southern region of the United States. Students, educators, alumni, and supporters of HBCUs carried out the various day-to-day work connected with measures involved with the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Although many of these people had no real distinct roles of authority in civil rights movement, they still acted as foot soldiers in the fight for social equality. Black and white people united to fight social injustice during this desolate time. Different social demonstrations and protests were often promoted and taken out by HBCU students. Instances of social demonstrations including sit-ins, freedom rides, and nonviolent protest took place during the civil rights movement with the support of HBCU students
Courageous political demonstrations lasted throughout the 1960s. With the collaboration of students, educators, alumni and supporters, HBCUs played a huge role in the civil rights movement. After several crucial federal court cases concerning the desegregation of institutions higher education, nineteen states in the north and south were coerced to develop long term plans to desegregate institutions of higher education. The stipulations or requirements for the improvement for HBCUs created by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) required states to improve the quality of public HBCUs not simply by closing them to merge with other institutions unless otherwise specified. Throughout the 1970s the federal budget to support HBCUs increased, but some universities still struggled with prospering financially, maintaining accreditation, and obtaining suitable leadership.
Nevertheless, the integration of the higher education system had an overall very positive impact on HBCUs and African American students in general. The integration of the higher education system gave African-American students access to more graduate level programs, more access to institutions of higher education and a greater selection of accredited programs.