Article23 HBCU Annapolis Rally

Robert A. Johnson, charter member of the Maryland HBCU faculty caucus calls for equal treatment for HBCUs at a rally in Annapolis, MD. (Photo by Chanet Wallace)

A group consisting of alumni, faculty, students and other supporters of Maryland’s HBCUs gathered on March 2 in front of the capitol in Annapolis to pressure the state to address existing inequalities in the Maryland higher education system.

“This movement is about equity,” Robert A. Johnson, charter member of the Maryland HBCU faculty caucus and a faculty member of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES), said at the rally.  “Maryland HBCU’s deserve to offer high quality academic programs and services just as those offered at traditional White Institutions such as University of Maryland College Park, Salisbury, Towson, and others.  We want equity.”

In 2006 a group of alumni from Maryland’s four HBCUs – Morgan State University, Coppin State University, UMES and Bowie State University – filed a $2 billion lawsuit alleging the HBCUs were negatively impacted by practices permitted among Maryland’s higher education institutions. A major focus of the lawsuit was on the practice of Maryland’s traditional White institutions (TWI’s) initiating select program courses that were already being offered at nearby HBCUs.  The duplication of such programs invariably resulted in promoting segregation among the Maryland higher education institutions in violation of the law. The lawsuit also asserted that such duplication unconstitutionally impeded the Black institutions’ ability to academically compete with the TWI’s.

In 2013 Federal District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake ruled in favor of The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education (Coalition), finding that the state of Maryland had indeed violated the law and the constitutional rights of the HBCU’s by promoting segregation through continuously allowing the duplication practice to exist following the elimination of segregation in public education as dictated in the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Ct. decision. Judge Blake thus ordered the two sides to mediate the ways the negative impact of Maryland’s protracted duplication practices could be addressed and removed.

In May of last year the Coalition offered it’s solution – which included merging the University of Baltimore into Morgan State University, transferring or eliminating about 80 programs from traditional White institutions and converting University of Maryland University College into a statewide online platform.

Last Nov. Maryland laid out its counter proposal: $10 million for HBCUs and TWIs to collaborate and initiate summer programs at HBCUs for high school graduates.

This Feb. Blake rejected the merger of University of Baltimore and Morgan State and called the $10 million proposal from the state inadequate and ordered both parties to submit new proposals.

The harsh wind, during this sunny evening at the capital, didn’t stop the crowd from chanting and challenging the inequalities that exist in Maryland HBCU’s.  Members from each university disclosed issues within their HBCU’s and personal narratives which reflect existing examples of continuing inequalities.  They also demanded the initiation of an era where such inequalities will no longer exist.

Supporters are remaining hopeful for structural reform of the Maryland higher education policies, practices, and procedures that will result in:

  1. the elimination of programs at TWI’s which have duplicated non-core pre-existing HBCU programs; and,
  2. the creation of new high demand programs at the Maryland HBCU’s in order for each of such institutions to be able to maintain and distinguish their individual academic identity and competitiveness.

“Right now we are out here creating awareness … because HBCU’s have been mistreated.  Its’ time we stand in solidarity against these types of systemic ongoing inequalities,” Elijah Vines from Bowie State University said.

Barbara Robinson, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, gave greetings from the Caucus. In an interview the day after the rally, Robinson told the AFRO, “It’s a shame 34 years later we’re talking about inadequacy, here we are again talking about the same thing.” In 1982, the Department of Education, Office of Civil rights began negotiations with the state of Maryland which eventually lead to a statewide desegregation plan.

Robinson was the only member of the Legislative Black Caucus to attend the rally. While no specific invitation was extended to the Black Caucus or Maryland Governor Hogan to meet with the group represented by the protestors, a spokesperson for the organizers of the protest indicated such meetings will be pursued in the near future.

At the end of the rally protesters and supporters promised to continue to march and bring awareness to the hostile environment, needs and demands of Maryland’s HBCU’s as dictated and outlined by the Judge Blake decision in the lawsuit.