Trailblazers: Integration at the University of Maryland (Part 1)

This is the first of two posts about the history of integration at the University of Maryland.

The history of racial integration at the University of Maryland is a long and complicated one, stretching back to the 1880s.  It is a story of false starts, half-measures and lawsuits that can be difficult to imagine today given the image of the university as diverse and inclusive.

The post- Civil War era in the United States was a time of great change, and some of the barriers between African-Americans and education began to fall.  When the courts overturned a state law prohibiting blacks from practicing law, some began to push for the integration of the University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore.

Harry Sythe Cummings, Maryland School of Law 1889 (from the Maryland State Archives)

In 1887, Harry S. Cummings and Charles W. Johnson became the first black men to be admitted to the law school.  Both men graduated in 1889, and Cummings went on to a distinguished political career, becoming Baltimore’s first black City Council member.

The integration of the law school was short-lived. Two more black students, John L. Dozier and William A. Hawkins, were admitted in 1889. Complaints from white students and a conservative administration led to Dozier’s and Hawkins’ expulsion in 1890, and by 1891, an official policy of discrimination was in place.  This policy would last for more than 40 years.

The battle for integration of the law school was taken up again in 1935, under the leadership of famed civil rights attorney Charles Hamilton Houston and future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, working on behalf of the NAACP.  Amherst College graduate Donald G. Murray made repeated attempts to enter the University of Maryland Law School, only to have his application rejected because of his race.  Houston filed suit on Murray’s behalf and eventually the Baltimore City Court issued a Writ of Mandamus compelling the university, as a state agency, to admit blacks to the law school under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. After the State Court of Appeals upheld the decision, Murray finally began law school in 1936 and graduated in 1938, later becoming a prominent attorney and civil rights activist in Baltimore.

Letter from University Registrar Hillegeist informing Murray that "the University does not accept Negro Students, except at Princess Anne Academy""
Letter from University Registrar Hillegeist informing Murray that “the University does not accept Negro Students, except at Princess Anne Academy””

After Murray’s admission, black applicants to the law school were considered on their merits alone. The rest of the university system, both in Baltimore and College Park, remained segregated. In our next post, we’ll see how the key players in the Murray case took on the university and won a landmark victory.

Sources:

Bogen, David. “The First Integration of the University of Maryland School of Law”, Maryland Historical Magazine, Vol. 84, No. 1 (Spring 1989). Retrieved from:  http://digitalcommons.law.umaryland.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1711&context=fac_pubs

University of Maryland (College Park, Md.). President’s Office records, folder titled “Negro Students, 1933”.

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