In keeping with the tradition of fighting for and supporting historical Black universities and colleges (HBCU), leaders and members of local Black churches crowded into courtroom 7D of the Garmatz Federal Courthouse Jan. 24 to show support for the ongoing Maryland HBCU Equality Lawsuit.
“Silence is betrayal,” said the Rev. Errol D. Gilliard, pastor of Greater Harvest Baptist Church, expressing the reason it is so important for not only the church, but African Americans in every field to rally behind the case. “There is a new form of white supremacy and the Black church needs to be in the fight.”
With few African-American politicians taking a public stance in support of the case, pastors, ministers, and alumni of the HBCUs gathered to show that even weeks into the case, support is still growing. “It is a great injustice to the constituency that put them in office for our Black politicians alone to practice such field plantation politics,” said Rev. Gilliard, in reference to the sheer dearth of public support for the case from African American elected officials.
Begun on Jan. 3, the case, which is set to last six weeks, was brought by the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education against the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) and was originally filed in October 2006. Claiming a system of de jure segregation, or segregation by law, as the key factor in disparities between the four HBCU’s in Maryland and their white counterparts, Bowie State University (BSU), Coppin State University (CSU), Morgan State University (MSU), and University of Maryland-Eastern Shore (UMES) are seeking $2.1 billion in damages to invest in the institutions that currently lack funding and struggle to operate at their full potential.
“The Black church has always stood by to give the life-blood shot that is needed,” said the pastor of Sharon Baptist Church, the Rev. Dr. A.C.D. Vaughn explaining the reason it is imperative for those in ministry to support the cause of Maryland’s HBCUs and those across the country.
Begun in 1867, Morgan State University, like many HBCUs, has roots intertwined deeply with the Black church as it began as the Centenary Biblical Institute, where freed male slaves were trained to become ministers of the gospel.
“It is critical that states be made to step up to the plate and fund these institutions at an appropriate level because it is not only legally required it is the right thing to do,” said A. Recardo Perry, emeritus vice-president of student affairs at Morgan State University.
Alumni and staff from CSU and MSU could be seen paying close attention to the testimonies before U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake, as they remembered their own days at underfunded HBCUs with insufficient textbooks and facilities.
“This should not just be supported by Black people but by Whites who are interested in a level playing field,” said Dr. Kenneth Morgan, assistant professor of Interdisciplinary Studies for Coppin State University. A graduate of Temple University, Dr. Morgan said everyone should “read the case and understand what the issue is,” then become involved directly or indirectly. “We are not victims,” said Dr. Morgan, “but in order for us to succeed, we have to organize and make our voices known.”
In addition to addressing financial issues, the case will also take on the blind eye turned to duplicate programming, which routinely draws students away from HBCUs when traditionally white institutions in the same area (TWIs) offer the same special degree programs.
Taking the stand Jan. 24, Dr. William E. “Brit” Kirwan, chancellor of the University of Maryland system, offered explanations as to why the duplication of the specialty programs, such as the MSU Masters of Business Administration, were allowed at nearby TWIs such as Towson University and University of Baltimore.
“It’s certainly a different version than what we know to be the facts. The documents that relate to the MBA say that it is quite different from the presentation that Dr. Kirwan made. I’m sure he just didn’t recall certain facts and made mistakes,” said Dr. Earl Richardson, in response to the testimony of Dr. Kirwan. President of Morgan State University, from 1984 to 2010, Dr. Richardson oversaw major transformations of the northeast Baltimore campus and understands first hand not only the problems with underfunding, but program duplication by nearby universities.
“It’s the same old excuses we’ve been dealing with for thirty years. When you don’t mean to do right, it’s easy to make excuses,” said Rev. Vaughn. “Our concern is real equity for all of the schools. When you look at taxes, the same amount is taken from the White schools as the Black schools,” said Rev. Vaughn, who says even though Coppin and Morgan State are geographically easily accessible in Baltimore, program duplication from TWIs incites students to travel much further unnecessarily.
Program duplication became one of many official indicators of a segregated university system with the Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Fordice, 505 U.S. 717 (1992). The case that focused on Mississippi’s de jure segregation of colleges and universities, set precedents for the entire country with its ruling.