Students from Maryland’s four public historically black colleges and universities continued their fight to raise awareness of funding inequity against the institutions with a rally last week in Baltimore City.
The event gathered hundreds of students and alumni from Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, in a show of support for federal judge Catherine Blake’s efforts to remedy in favor of the black colleges, which four years ago she ruled were victimized by a separate-but-unequal system of higher education that operated with shades of racial separation rivaled only by systems in the deep south during the throes of segregation.
No place in America rivals Maryland in having a richer, more well-educated enclave of African American residents, thanks in small part to its proximity to federal government, and in large part to the HBCUs near and far which credentialed these workers. It is southern, but operated for decades with a sophisticated brand of deep south lawbreaking and exclusionary politics expertly masked by the growth of its affluent black population.
Instead of attempting to kill HBCUs through audit authority like Alabama, or with political operatives masquerading as board members like in Louisiana and Florida, or by regular merger attempts like Georgia, Maryland used all three tactics to complement its primary weapon of HBCU marginalization; program duplication.
At the time of Judge Blake’s 2013 verdict, the University System of Maryland had developed 122 unique programs at seven of its predominantly white public institutions. At its four HBCUs, 11 programs were considered distinctive. Other HBCU programs were duplicated at proximate PWIs, placing the HBCUs at a competitive disadvantage in recruiting, grantmaking and marketing even in a region where African American educational attainment had exploded over a 30-year period.
Maryland’s ghosts of racial division haunted higher education to no end, but it was hard to exorcise them with the increase of black political power in the state. But that rise was accompanied by a deafening silence among black lawmakers at state and federal levels, who if they have mentioned the lawsuit, have not accompanied it with legislative action to support the results of the verdict.
These are Democrats, black folks over a period which began three years before the election of Barack Obama, will likely see its latest chapter close less than a year following his departure. And even more ironically, will have said less publicly in support of HBCUs than Donald Trump has said in just over a month on the job.
Maryland is the blueprint of how black capital, financial and political, doesn’t always translate into success for black communities. It doesn’t mean that the people are bad or the causes aren’t worthy, it just means that some states and their houses of legislature are better than others at hiding the true measure of their politics. Black mayors, city councils, senators and representatives throughout the state and even those whom we’ve sent to Washington D.C. haven’t reflected the urgency of the time for HBCUs.
And now, they stand to be outpaced by a president with alleged white nationalists on his staff.
Our only hope now rests in the hands of a judge who now knows well our case, but could never know how much the culture has harmed our communities or for how long. And if her October 2013 ruling is any indication, we have every reason to believe that she will be far more effective than our elected officials have been in finally ridding the Maryland higher education system of its pro-segregation system executed through program duplication.