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Home News Washington D.C. News Originally published December 14, 2011

Maryland's Ugly Segregated Past Must Be Shown

by Todd Beamon
Special to the AFRO

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Among the rulings U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake made during Tuesday’s pre-trial hearing were that historical reports from as far back as 1937 could be admitted into evidence and that the leaders of two of Maryland’s historically Black colleges could testify at the hearing that begins next month.

Regarding the documents, representatives for the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education Inc. contended that the reports – from 1937, 1947 and 1962, for instance – were necessary to prove the existence of “de jure segregation” – racial segregation imposed by law – in Maryland higher education.

Despite Maryland officials acknowledging the presence of a segregated system, “beyond that, it has conceded little about its actions,” said Henry A. Thompson II, a lawyer with the Kirkland & Ellis LLP law firm. The Washington-based firm is representing the coalition.

He quoted, for instance, from a 1947 report by the American Council on Education, “with recommendations of the Maryland Commission on Higher Education.” The state entity no longer exists.

However, the report said: “The state has consistently pursued a policy of providing higher education facilities for Negroes which are inferior to those provided for whites. The meager appropriations and the inferior accreditation status of the Negro colleges attest to this fact.”

Meanwhile, those representing the Maryland Higher Education Commission, established in 1988, questioned whether such documents applied to current conditions within Maryland higher education.

“The plaintiffs say that if a report exists, it’s relevant,” said Gregory T. Wasylak, an attorney with the Venable LLP law firm. The Baltimore firm is representing the state along with Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler. “They say they are relevant to the case, but they don’t say how.”

But Judge Blake ruled, “The documents are relevant to establishing what policy was in the past.”

She also dismissed early in Tuesday’s proceeding state contentions that the documents prejudiced its case.

As for the current HBCU leaders, state officials contended Tuesday that President David Wilson of Morgan State University and Mortimer H. Neufville, acting president of the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, should not testify because they were added as witnesses after court-imposed deadlines. The objections were overruled.

After the proceeding, Kenneth L. Thompson, a Venable partner who is not related to Henry Thompson, called Blake’s rulings fair. “The judge did what she did,” he said. “They were all fair.”

Michael D. Jones, chief counsel for the coalition, pointed to the significance of the historical documents. “They lay out, really starkly, how the state’s policies put Black colleges in the hole.”
 



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