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Maryland HBCU Desegregation Trial Nearing an End

Columnist | , George Curry | 2/8/2012, 12:11 p.m.

Maryland HBCU Desegregation Trial Nearing an End

After six weeks of testimony, a major trial to determine whether Maryland's four historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have been routinely denied funding and other needed resources that would have made them "comparable and competitive" with White universities in the state is expected to end this week, with a ruling expected by this summer.

The overwhelming majority of HBCUs, originally established shortly after the Civil War to prevent African-Americans from attending all-White state universities, are located in the South. The Maryland case (Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, Inc., v. Maryland Higher Education Commission, et al.) has attracted national attention, in part, because it involves a border state that, like the South, operated a rigidly segregated school system, but unlike the South, has largely escaped intense public scrutiny.

U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake presided over the non-jury trial in Baltimore. The lead attorney for the plaintiffs was Jon Greenbaum of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Pro bono work was provided by lawyers from Kirkland & Ellis law firm and the Howard University School of Law Civil Rights Clinic.

The suit was originally filed in 2006 by the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, Inc., a community-based group comprised of alumni of public HBCUs in Maryland and other interested parties. It is seeking approximately $2.1 billion to upgrade the four state HBCUs: Morgan State University, Bowie State University, Coppin State University and the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore.

Named as major defendants are officials of the University of Maryland Higher Education Commission, Gov. Martin O'Malley and Secretary of Higher Education James E. Lyons, Sr.

The state of Maryland's higher education system has a long history of racial segregation, according to witnesses and court documents.

"Throughout its history, Maryland has systematically engaged in policies and practices that established and perpetuated a racially segregated system of higher education," the suit asserts. "Maryland first instituted its system of public higher education in 1807 by establishing the University of Maryland at Baltimore. This was a White-only institution.

"Maryland subsequently established four other White-only, public institutions of higher education: the University of Maryland, established in 1865; Towson University, established in 1866, Frostburgh State University, established in 1898; and Salisbury State University, established in 1922," the suit continued. "The state began its dual-system by assuming control of The Baltimore Normal School, an all Black teacher's school now known as Bowie State University. This was the beginning of Maryland's segregated system of higher education."

Maryland was forced to expand educational opportunities for Blacks in order to qualify for federal land-grant funds. That led to the state also acquiring what is now the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, Morgan State University and adding Coppin State University in 1950.

In 1954, the United States Supreme Court issued its Brown v. Board of Education ruling, holding that segregated school systems violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. "Following Brown, Maryland did nothing more than lift the rule excluding Black students from White schools," the lawsuit recounts.