Neigh­bors come to­gether

Res­i­dents tried to keep Morgan State out of North­east Baltimore in 1917

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Colin Campbell

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Morgan State Uni­ver­sity and its sur­round­ing neigh­bor­hoods stand to­gether in unity as part of a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion event dur­ing Morgan's Founders Day Con­vo­ca­tion on Thurs­day.

When white neigh­bors in Lau­rav­ille learned of plans to re­lo­cate an African Amer­i­can school and com­mu­nity into their North­east Baltimore neigh­bor­hood in 1917, they sued to pre­vent what they — and The Baltimore Sun at the time — called a threat­en­ing “ne­gro in­va­sion.”

Their un­suc­cess­ful law­suit, protests, ed­i­to­ri­als, let­ters and leg­isla­tive bills seek­ing to pre­serve “the sanc­tity of an all-white com­mu­nity” be­trayed their ig­no­rance.

Black peo­ple al­ready lived on the Ivy Mill prop­erty where Morgan State Uni­ver­sity now stands. They mined a nearby Her­ring Run quarry and wor­shiped at a nearby black church, said Steven K. Rags­dale, a mem­ber of the Baltimore City His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety’s board of di­rec­tors.

“Black peo­ple lived in the neigh­bor­hood,” Rags­dale said. “They just didn’t know it.”

More than 100 years later, those same neigh­bor­hood groups ac­knowl­edged their racist past and cel­e­brated Morgan State Uni­ver­sity’s Founder’s Day in a “Peace, Unity and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion” event at the cam­pus on Thurs­day.

About two dozen neigh­bor­hood lead­ers, elected of­fi­cials and other North­east Baltimore rep­re­sen­ta­tives took the stage at Morgan State’s Mur­phy Fine Arts Cen­ter hold­ing can­dles, pledg­ing their com­mit­ment to each other, and re­ject­ing the ha­tred and divi­sion that long char­ac­ter­ized the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the his­tor­i­cally black uni­ver­sity and its white neigh­bors.

“We de­clare that we are one North­east Baltimore com­mu­nity,” Morgan State Pres­i­dent David Wil­son said. “We are united in pur­pose, we are united in progress, and we are united in prom­ise.”

Rags­dale, the key­note speaker, dis­played his­toric news­pa­per clip­pings, let­ters from the Lau­rav­ille Im­prove­ment As­so­ci­a­tion to the col­lege’s board mem­bers and a slew of other doc­u­ments in a nearly 30-minute pre­sen­ta­tion about the re­sis­tance to the school’s move from its ear­lier lo­ca­tions in West Baltimore and Vir­ginia. His re­search will be pub­lished in an up­com­ing book.

San­dra Cry­der, im­me­di­ate past pres­i­dent of the Lau­rav­ille Im­prove­ment As­so­ci­a­tion, said she had been par­tic­u­larly dis­turbed to see the “hate­ful let­ters writ­ten over 100 years ago by the LIA were on the same let­ter­heads that were still in use un­til a cou­ple of years ago.”

Black res­i­dents now com­prise 54% of the neigh­bor­hood, she said, and “neigh­bors of dif­fer­ent races and back­grounds live am­i­ca­bly, side-by-side.”

“To­day, as we cel­e­brate our com­mit­ment to peace, unity and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion within our North­east Baltimore com­mu­ni­ties,” Cry­der said, “I be­lieve it is very im­por­tant … to con­front our im­plicit bi­ases and dis­man­tle in­sti­tu­tional im­ped­i­ments that must be over­come to im­prove the lives of those who have been harmed by sys­temic dis­en­fran­chise­ment.”

Kweisi Mfume, chair of the Morgan State Uni­ver­sity Board of Re­gents who is run­ning for the 7th Dis­trict con­gres­sional seat, hear­kened to the school’s found­ing in Novem­ber 1867, “just four years af­ter Pres­i­dent Abra­ham Lin­coln signed the Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion into law, abol­ish­ing what the late his­to­rian John Hope Franklin called the ‘pe­cu­liar and cruel’ in­sti­tu­tion of slav­ery.”

“That barely no­ticed yet very sig­nif­i­cant found­ing was also to be­come the thresh­old for the launch­ing of a new era in all ar­eas of life for a race of peo­ple here in Amer­ica who had suf­fered, en­dured and sur­vived two cen­turies of slav­ery, op­pres­sion, de­pri­va­tion, degra­da­tion, de­nial and dis­priv­i­lege,” Mfume said.

The school’s founders built the in­sti­tu­tion with only “a few dol­lars, 20 stu­dents, but enor­mous hope,” Mfume said.

Af­ter Rags­dale’s pre­sen­ta­tion, the lights went down. Record­ings of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump blast­ing Baltimore as “dis­gust­ing ” and CNN’s Vic­tor Black­well emo­tion­ally de­fend­ing his home­town echoed through the dark­ened au­di­to­rium be­fore trum­peters, the Morgan State Uni­ver­sity Cho­rus and dancers per­formed a stir­ring ver­sion of a song with the re­frain: “This is Me.”

The event was both ed­u­ca­tional and en­ter­tain­ing, said Bran­den Lowe, a Morgan State fresh­man.

“We came a long way and re­united,” said the 18-year-old from Wal­dorf.

Rita Crews, pres­i­dent of the Be­lair-Edi­son Com­mu­nity As­so­ci­a­tion and a 1976 grad­u­ate of Morgan State, said the event was so mean­ing­ful that she found her­self close to tears.

“In or­der to im­prove Baltimore, we all have to work to­gether,” she said. “That’s it.”


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