Maryland is geographically located just below the historic Mason and Dixon Line, making it a southern state. The “Old Line State” as Maryland is sometimes called, actually had elements fighting on the side of the Confederacy during the Civil War to uphold slavery. Today State leaders deliberately shun the southern affiliation, choosing instead to market the state as part of a more progressive Middle Atlantic region. Such a politically correct agenda better serves the political ambitions of the governor, legislators and others in the white power structure.
Like New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and six other northern jurisdictions, Maryland recently enacted legislation supporting same sex marriage. In 2012, the State followed some of the same states in authorizing in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. This year Maryland joined a handful of states like New York Connecticut and Colorado with the enactment of stricter gun control laws.
Boasting of these accomplishments, the president of the state Senate, Thomas Mike V. Miller is quoted in the Baltimore Sun as saying, “Are we the Southern state that we used to be? No, we’re not. We’re more progressive.” The question is: Are we, as a state, really more progressive?
As Gov. Martin O’Malley gloats over the success of his progressive agenda, there are many contradictions on issues related to African Americans. The most glaring example is the Historically Black Universities (HBUs) where Maryland continues to mirror the Deep South in significant ways. Like Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, Maryland refuses to make the historically Black Institutions comparable and competitive with its Traditionally White Institutions in their attractiveness to students regardless of race; and thus, continues to operate a dual system of higher education. State officials are currently in federal court arguing as their counterparts in the Deep South did earlier, that contrary to civil rights law, the State has no obligation to create parity between its historically Black and traditionally White campuses.
Unlike Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia and several other southern states, Maryland is politically a democratic state. It has had both a democratic governor and a majority of democrats in the legislature for 48 of the 58 years since segregation in public education was outlawed. The state legislative Black Caucus now has a membership of 43 democrats, 9 senators and 34 delegates.
This means democrats rather than the republican minority bear primary responsibility for the continued segregation and inequities in the state higher education system.
Democrats controlled the Statehouse and the Legislature when the State decided to build a new campus in Baltimore County; to develop Towson College into a comprehensive university; and to incorporate a private University of Baltimore into the public system rather than to invest in the growth and development of the existing historically black campuses in the Baltimore region. Democratic lawmakers are primarily responsible for maintaining policies that allow white institutions to duplicate the academic programs at HBIs while White enrollment in the HBCUs plummet. It is the democrats who continue to accelerate funding to construct facilities at TWIs as the backlog of unfunded facilities at historically black campuses gets longer.
Meanwhile, African Americans make up 29 percent of the state’s population and historically they vote overwhelmingly democratic. Our vote has been so consistent that we are now taken for granted. As we approach the next state and federal election cycles, African Americans must decide who among the current elected officials they will either reelect or ouster, and whom they will support for higher state and national office. We as a community should have no “permanent friends, only permanent interests” and we have as much power and influence as any other interest groups. It is time we use that influence to force the hand of the governor and the legislature on the issue of parity for our Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The way we use that influence can ultimately determine whether the governor’s legacy of neglect of the Historically Black Universities becomes a benefit or an impediment ot any aspirations he has for the office of President of the United States.
Baltimore attorney A. Dwight Pettit is a former member of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, 2003-2010; and former vice chairman of the finance committee, 2007-2010.