Samuel L. Banks: scholar and activist . . .


IF ONE were to write a quiz about people who have had a great positive impact on Baltimore, one of the most poignant questions would be as follows: Samuel L. Banks was to education in Baltimore as (fill in the name) was to education in Atlanta? The answer is the late Benjamin E. Mays, a longtime president of Morehouse College and mentor of its greatest alumnus, Martin Luther King Jr.

With the death of Dr. Samuel L. Banks last Wednesday at the age of 64, much of Baltimore is left reeling, just as Atlanta was at the death of Dr. Benjamin E. Mays in March 1984.

Both men were scholars of unquestioned brilliance, integrity and courage. Both men were able to articulate powerful concepts with a simplicity that exuded eloquence and passion. Neither man appeared to fear anyone and each was respectful of everyone. Both were most aggressive fighters for civil rights and equal opportunity in education. Both tried extensively to improve public education, Dr. Mays as president and longtime member of the Atlanta Board of Education, and Dr. Banks as a senior administrator in the Baltimore Public Schools for many years. Both, although extremely busy, always took time to give anyone who needed it their invaluable advice. When there were often no other voices of support, they were always there to encourage risk-taking in pursuit of worthy goals and to remind others in the fight for civil rights that they were not alone.

Personally, I will be eternally grateful to Dr. Banks for encouraging me to write articles for newspapers, not just academic journals. Also, he was an excellent mentor for me; he opened doors that enriched my intellectual growth.

Both men shared other characteristics. Neither suffered fools graciously. Both were sticklers for proper protocol and for doing things right the first time. Both were scholar/activists in the W.E.B. DuBois tradition. Both believed in constantly trying to educate and consult with those in the higher education community. For example, over the past year, Dr. Banks made two memorable presentations on the Morgan State University campus that epitomized his long career as a scholar/educator/activist. I was privileged to work with Dr. Banks and Dr. Gossie Harold Hudson of Morgan State in coordinating the first Baltimore-area symposium last winter on the controversial book, "The Bell Curve," by Charles Murray and the late Richard Herrnstein. In his remarks at the Morgan State symposium, Dr. Banks addressed the book from a scholarly historical perspective, noting the cyclical nature of such attacks on African-American intelligence. He also noted how such biased scholarship served the political purposes of powerful, racially insensitive people. His presentation included scholarly data from various fields, including genetics, history, education and politics. RTC The positive response of the many students and his peers gathered for his address was overwhelming. Here was an educator who was at his greatest glory when stimulating others to accept the challenge of intellectual rigor.

Last year, Dr. Banks was invited to address the entire Morgan State faculty in one of two biannual faculty institutes. His address dealt with what affect the new Republican Congress would have on higher education. He rightly predicted that such hard-fought for issues as affirmative action, civil rights enforcement and financial aid for needy students would be endangered. He stressed that we should never only react when radical reactionary forces threaten our political interests.

Clearly, Dr. Banks was at his best when he had an entire university faculty to engage intellectually and large gatherings to stimulate to take appropriate action. Morgan State was proud to have claimed him for many years as an adjunct professor of education.

An author of two books, he was working on a third about conservative syndicated columnist James J. Kilpatrick's role in fighting against school integration in Virginia.

Besides being a pioneer in developing multicultural education in the 1970s, he served on many national and local boards including, the National Commission on History Standards and the National Council for Social Studies. He was a past president of the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History.

As a valued mentor to many, a cherished peer to all and a feared but respected foe to some, Dr. Banks is fondly remembered and is greatly missed.

Frank L. Morris Sr., Ph.D., is dean of graduate studies and research at Morgan State University. Dr. Morris will speak at a memorial service for Dr. Banks at 6 p.m. tonight in Murphy Auditorium on Morgan's campus.

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