Almost eleven years ago the lawyers for The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education filed a class action suit against the Maryland Higher Education Commission. The Coalition represents students and alumni of the four Maryland HBCUs: Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that the state of Maryland higher education system continued to practice segregation after the 1954 Brown v. Kansas Board of Education which found that separate schools for Blacks and Whites were unconstitutional.
On October 7, 2013 Judge Catherine Blake ruled that duplication of programs at HBCUs by Traditionally White Institutions were a form of segregation. The two sides have been arguing over what the remedy should be ever since. On June 7 Blake finally heard closing remedy arguments.
Kenneth O. Morgan
Take a guess as to whether following responses came from defendants or plaintiffs on June 7. The “It will cause schools to shutdown. It will harm students. It reduces chances for underserved populations.” These words came from defendants’ lips.
The defendants’ logic is akin to leaving out why the 1896 U.S. Supreme Court case Plessey v. Ferguson, which upheld segregation, was struck down, by Brown v. the Board of Education.
The plaintiffs asked that some 20 academic programs be transferred from traditionally White institutions to the four Maryland HBCUs. In addition, there is a proposal for some 70 new unique and high demand programs to be created at Maryland HBCUs.
The price tag cost is “between $230 million and $650 million over five years, plus $200 million to enhance existing programs and $200 million for marketing and scholarships over 10 years” according to the Baltimore Sun.
What the plaintiffs asked for and the defendants responses to the demands reminds me of the lyrics to Oscar Brown Jr’s “Forty Acres and a Mule” song. “If I’m not mistaken I once read … where every slave set free was supposed to get, for slaving forty acres and a mule.”
He continues. “… sure as hell the total’s got to run at least, forty acres and a mule. I may be crazy, but I ain’t no fool. One hundred years of debt at ten percent, per acre, and per mule.”
As the lead plaintiff’s attorney Michael Jones said in the courtroom, “Serious constitutional violations may require serious costs.”
Here is hoping that Judge Blake agrees. History is on our side.
Kenneth O. Morgan is an assistant professor and coordinator of the Urban Studies Program in the Department of Criminal Justice and Applied Social and Political Sciences at Coppin State University in Baltimore.