Obituary: William Arthur “Buddy” Blakey

William Arthur “Buddy” Blakey, 67, whose contributions to and advocacy for public and private Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) spanned more than five decades, died Oct. 13, nearly one year after succumbing to an illness that left him incapacitated. He spent the last three months of his life at the Marley Neck Health & Rehabilitation Center in Glen Burnie, Md., according to the administrator of the facility.  

The stalwart Washington, D.C., attorney, who began his professional career in public service, played a key role in conducting background research leading to the conceptualization, creation and legislative enactment of a number of key legislative programs that have benefited the nation’s Black colleges and universities, specifically, and Minority Serving Institutions, in general. Blakey, a graduate of the Historically Black Knoxville College, also oversaw the HBCU Student Default Exemption through Congress.

Known for being a voracious writer and a nimble navigator of both sides of the political aisle on behalf of Black colleges. Blakey, in a 2009 essay in Diverse, gave readers a glimpse of the “politics” behind the development of the notable Historically Black College and University Act:

‘Michael A. Tongour was a legislative assistant in the office of Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.)…. After agreeing to have Simon sign on [Sen. Strom]Thurmond’s resolution, I told Tongour, “If your boss really wants to do something meaningful for the HBCUs, you should get him to co-sponsor Paul’s bill amending Title III of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to provide funding for the HBCUs!” Tongour responded, “Get me a draft of Sen. Simon’s bill and I’ll show it to my boss.”

That exchange spawned a friendship between Tongour and (me) that has lasted until today and created a working relationship between Simon and Thurmond that led to bipartisan support for the Historically Black College and University Act in the committee and on the floor of the Senate.’

Blakey conducted research on key public policy issues related to federal institutional aid for the HBCUs, and for Federal Student Aid programs that benefited low and middle-income students that attended these institutions. From 1991 to 2004, Blakey teamed with William Gray III, then president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund (now The College Fund/UNCF) as legal counsel for the nation’s private Black colleges and universities.

Gray, who was the highest ranking African-American in Congress when he retired from the House of Representatives in 1991 after stints as the House Budget Committee chair and the House Majority Whip, remembered Blakey as a respected leader in postsecondary education and as a friend. 

“There was no one who had the depth of knowledge that he had with regard to Historically Black Colleges and Universities. He was a strong advocate, but he also recognized where the HBCUs were strong and where they were weak. His legislation was designed to strengthen their weaknesses.

“Buddy understood the unique role of Historically Black Colleges” and railed against those who purported that Black colleges had outlived their usefulness. “His passion and knowledge base will be sorely missed, especially at this critical time in the life of the Black college,” Gray added.

Blakey also served as a Washington counsel for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and was the legal representative on behalf of individual HBCUs and their associations before the Supreme Court of the United States, the Middle District of Florida and several federal departments and agencies, especially the U.S. Department of Education. A graduate of the Howard University Law School, Blakey was inducted into the National Black College Hall of Fame. He established the Washington, D.C.–based practice William A. Blakey and Associates, PLLC, in 2005.