Swarthmore College

In the first chapter of The Campus Color Line: College Presidents and the Struggle for Black Freedom¬†(Princeton, 2020), Eddie R. Cole recounts how in the mid-twentieth century Martin D. Jenkins, Morgan State University president, navigated ongoing segregationist challenges to the Black university’s independence by H.C. Byrd, the president of the University of Maryland. The State of Maryland struck a deal to purchase privately controlled Morgan College in 1939 so the state could have, in Cole’s phrasing, “an actual Black college” to belatedly satisfy the terms of the Morrill Act of 1890. The second Morrill act required states to desegregate land-grant campuses or form a land-grant institution for Black students.

At Jenkins’ inauguration in 1948, he gave a speech titled “The Function of Morgan State College as a State Institution of Higher Education” that reflected on the particular balance of liberal and vocational education at Black colleges. Here is Cole’s account of that address:

[Jenkins] explained Morgan State’s three responsibilities: develop its students, conserve and enhance knowledge, and raise the cultural level of the state and nation. “Morgan State must assume and discharge these responsibilities. To the extent that it does so, the state and nation will be richer in human resources.” Jenkins then reverted to an old debate among Black educators–what Black colleges should teach. “A liberal education is these days and for this group of students not enough,” he assessed. “I shall not here take issue with those distinguished educators who hold that this kind of education is the only legitimate kind of higher education.” The college must be vocational and liberal, he said, believing the education of Black students must not be one or the other. “We intend to encourage this staff to engage in all types of scholarly activity, but especially to attack those problems which might have particular relevance to the development of the state and to the adjustment of the Negro population.”

About the Author

Andy Hines is the Associate Director of the Aydelotte Foundation. He studies models of the university posed by Black writers and Black social movements, as well as the significant but understudied contributions of Black writers to literary criticism and theory.

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October 30, 2020