Regarding the debate on your opinion pages over whether Maryland's historically black colleges and universities are still relevant, the idea that these institutions were created solely because African-Americans weren't allowed to attend segregated white schools can be misleading ("A troubled legacy," Jan. 9).

Skillful, literary and artistic black people were a significant economic benefit to the ruling class during the antebellum period. The challenge of the post-slavery economic system was to perpetuate that economic precedent by the quickest, most practical means. The establishment of the black colleges helped fulfilled that challenge.

It's often argued that in today's era of racial inclusiveness people should "let go of the past and move forward." We might all want to believe that in the post-civil rights era race shouldn't matter, especially in higher education. However, in real life things are not so simple.

The historically black colleges and universities have been a safe and nurturing environment for a wide range of students and faculty from around the world in addition to African-Americans. To discontinue or hamper their progress would create a serious void in the community.

Capital improvements and expanded academic programs to make up for past inequities and prevent future ones should be made so these schools can continue to provide their much-needed services. That will benefit all Marylanders.

Cole Wiggins, Columbia