Hundreds of students and alumni of Morgan State University gathered in the Student Center Theater on Nov. 11 to witness the unveiling of a civil rights exhibit commemorating student led sit-ins and protests dating back to 1947.
City and State officials addressed the packed auditorium and congratulated the students from the past who paved the way for a better life for everyone today.
Georgia Congressman John Lewis, a stalwart civil rights advocate, keynoted the school’s Founder’s Day Convocation. Noting that because of the perseverance and determination of those students who chose to stand up for justice and equality, “colored only” and “whites only” signs are a thing of the past – relics relegated to their proper place in museums and on historical exhibition.
University of Maryland Law professor and curator for the exhibit, Larry Gibson, said it was time to correct history.
“Morgan’s students have repeatedly been innovators in adopting strategies that were later used by other groups in the civil rights movement,” he said. “Six hundred students occupied Annapolis in 1947 demanding equitable funding for Morgan’s facilities and programs. This is the earliest example of student demonstration, black or white, in the history of this country.”
The exhibit includes replicas of lunch counter stools at Read’s Drug Store where students held sit-ins after they were refused service. Enlarged reprints of articles and photographs from the Afro-American Newspapers, the only newspaper in the region that provided extensive coverage of the movement, will permanently line the main promenade of the Student Center.
“Can you imagine all the things that we would not know about our own history and about these brave individuals if had not been for the AFRO,” Gibson remarked. “Seventy percent of the articles and images came from the AFRO.”
While flash bulbs popped, alumni and honorees stood in awe as they reunited with old friends and reflected on the impact of their legacy on display. One plaque lists the names of hundreds of students arrested during the Northwood Theatre demonstrations in 1963, just as they appeared in the dockets of the Northeastern District Magistrate’s Court. Another captures young women from Morgan State College lining the steps of a city jail, the first documented use of mass incarceration as a protest tool.
According to Gibson the impact of the Morgan protests were felt throughout the entire city. Students threatened to continue similar actions as they did at Northwood if the downtown area remained segregated. Because of this, said Gibson, another Baltimore institution, the Hippodrome, was desegregated by an association of downtown movie houses. By the time Baltimore was desegregated in 1960, 54 lunch counters around the city ended the Jim Crow practice due to the efforts of Morgan students.
“This is a great day in the illustrious history of our university,” said Morgan President, Dr. David Wilson. “I want to thank everyone who worked so hard planning this day – a day when Morgan took its rightful place in the history books. I fully expect everyone within the University community to spend some time reviewing the exhibit. I know they will emerge with greater pride in our beloved Morgan.”
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