Education Secretary Betsy DeVos appears to be attempting to clean up a messy situation after incendiary comments about black colleges

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Betsy DeVos.
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Mike Segar/Reuters

After igniting controversy with a statement linking school choice and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos tweeted some clarifying comments in an apparent attempt to clean up the situation.

Without mentioning the outrage, DeVos wrote in a series of tweets on Tuesday that “#HBCUs are such an important piece of the fabric of American history-one that encompasses some of our nation’s greatest citizens.”

She continued, “But your history was born not out of mere choice, but out of necessity, in the face of racism, and in the aftermath of the Civil War.”

Her tweets appear to be an attempt to rectify comments from Monday which were widely derided as ignorant. “HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice,” DeVos had said in a statement.

The statement came after she met with leaders of HBCUs, and implied that HBCUs and school vouchers, of which DeVos is a fierce supporter, similarly afford better options to students. It continued:

“[HBCUs] are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.”

The backlash was swift, with hundreds of comments appearing online to condemn the secretary’s words, highlighting that many HBCUs were created because black students could not attend white segregated schools. They were, in other words, not providing better options, but the only options for these students.

Civil rights groups, too, criticized DeVos’ words. “HBCUs were created in response to a racist system of segregation that saw the education of black people as a threat to white supremacy – a belief central to slavery – and that refused to allow black people to participate in the education system available only to white people,” Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement to Business Insider.