Gifted, black -- they were paid to study elsewhere


It is one of Baltimore's untold stories, one laden with irony in this time of debate over the use of affirmative action to attract bright young university prospects.

For more than two decades spanning the midpoint of this century, hundreds of black Baltimore teachers traveled to the finest graduate schools in the land, their tuition, travel and living expenses paid by a Maryland government intent on keeping them out of the segregated state university.

A half-century later, these educators are in their 70s and 80s, retired, many still living in Baltimore. They keep in touch with one another as deaths reduce their number. This year they saw the federal courts strike down a scholarship program for blacks at the University of Maryland, the school that once excluded them.

The Baltimore educators, most of whom held full-time teaching jobs and undergraduate degrees from historically black Coppin and Morgan colleges, traveled by car and train on weekends and in the summers to such schools as the University of Chicago, New York University, Columbia, Oberlin, Howard, University of Pennsylvania, the University of California, Temple University in Philadelphia, Boston University -- even the University of Hawaii.

Then, armed with their new degrees and knowledge gained in the best schools of education, they quickly became the city's black school elite, rising to principalships and beyond. Two superintendents, John Crew and Alice Pinderhughes, received what were called "Out-of-State Scholarships," though Mrs. Pinderhughes never earned her degree.

Among other recipients were Samuel H. Wilson Jr., founder of Arena Players who died last February; Lena K. Lee, a longtime principal who became a lawyer and state delegate; Rebecca Carroll and Pearl C. Brackett, who earned teaching certificates together at Coppin Teachers College in 1936 and rose to the top ranks of the city school administration; Alice Rusk, long the chief librarian for city schools; and Wilbur G. Valentine, who served on the University of Maryland Board of Regents from 1977 until 1982.

The irony of his affiliation with UM "was not lost on me," said Mr. Valentine, 79, who graduated from Coppin in 1936 and, like many of the other male scholarship winners, earned degrees from Morgan and New York University after service in World War II.

Mr. Valentine is one of many who forgave but never forgot. Dr. Carroll and several others earned doctorates at UM after it opened its doors to African-Americans in the 1950s.

It's impossible to know how many received Out-of-State Scholarships or how much money was spent in all. The program changed from year to year, and some legislatures were more generous than others in appropriating scholarship funds.

"It usually wasn't fully funded," said George H. Callcott, historian of the University of Maryland. "It got increasingly funded in proportion to the fear of the courts ordering desegregation. Maryland was purely and simply buying off the courts."

The program began in the early 1930s with a tiny appropriation of $600. To win a scholarship, students had to possess the "qualities of health, character, ability and preparatory education required for admission to the University of Maryland." By law, the state reimbursed scholarship winners the tuition and expenses they would have paid at College Park. But over the years, some students got more and some less, Dr. Callcott said.

By 1949, the scholarship pool had grown to $100,000, supporting 400 students. But after the Supreme Court's monumental desegregation decision in 1954, segregation crumbled; the scholarship program expired with it.

Four decades later, a federal appeals court struck down the Banneker Scholarship program at the University of Maryland College Park, an effort to recruit talented blacks. The court ruled -- and the Supreme Court agreed this May -- that those who failed to qualify for scholarships because they were not black were being discriminated against unlawfully.

Those who held Out-of-State Scholarships a half-century ago use words like "silly" and "stupid" to characterize the measures taken by Maryland officials to preserve segregation. The scholarship program, Dr. Carroll said, "amounted to separate but equal carried to its logical extreme.

"The silliness of it all wasn't lost on us," said Dr. Carroll, 76, who retired as a deputy city superintendent in 1981. She earned her master's after five summers of study under some of America's eminent professors at the University of Chicago.

"We were pained and angered that we couldn't go to school in our own state, but we also knew this was something we could take advantage of," she said.

New York University actively recruited the Baltimoreans and at one time sent professors to conduct classes in Baltimore so that students didn't have to commute.

In 1949, 142 Baltimore students were at summer school at NYU, and a nearly equal number commuted to New York during the school year for Saturday classes -- all at Maryland taxpayers' expense.

"We could never have done it without the state help," said Lillian Dantley, 79, who earned a master's from NYU in 1946. "People would car pool or go up by train early Saturday morning and come back that night."

The students didn't live in luxury in their homes-away-from-home. Many roomed with friends and relatives. "No one could afford to give up their teaching jobs," said Mrs. Dantley, who served 39 years in the city system, retiring as a regional administrator in 1974. "I was paid $120 to $150 a month, and we weren't paid for the summer months. So when we went up for our graduation, it was a big thing after all that struggle."

Mr. Valentine said some students took a 2 a.m. train to New York each Saturday and returned late Saturday night. "I don't know how they did it," he said.

Some of the students found their mates while studying with an Out-of-State Scholarship. Dr. Carroll, then Rebecca Evans, met her future husband, the late James Carroll, in Chicago and married him in 1943, the same year she earned her master's. The entire sixth grade at her school, No. 116 at Orleans and Aisquith streets, attended the wedding.

"I couldn't go to the University of Maryland," said Dr. Brackett, an NYU graduate, "but the people who taught me were the people who wrote the books on Horace Mann" -- the American educator who was noted for his efforts to improve teaching in schools.

"My mission was clear. I felt I just couldn't be supported by the state and not do well . . . We were proud to do what we did, even if the people in high places in Maryland had hayseeds in their ears. It wasn't a matter of 'We'll show you.' It was us saying that if this is what we have to do to get a degree, we'll do it.' "

Dr. Crew, city schools superintendent from 1975 to 1982, was among the last of the Maryland travelers north, earning a master's in psychology and educational psychology from NYU in 1955. He rented a three-room apartment in Brooklyn and washed cars to make ends meet.

"I didn't have as much commuting as some did," he said. "But there were those who almost got a doctorate riding the rails."

Students in law, medicine and other professions were also eligible for the scholarships, but the big majority of the recipients were teachers, Dr. Callcott said. And UM, thanks to the successful lawsuit of Donald G. Murray (represented by a young lawyer named Thurgood Marshall), was forced to open its law school to blacks as early as 1935.

The Out-of-State Scholarship program was attacked in the legislature nearly every session, but somehow it survived -- "out of fear of the courts," Dr. Callcott said.

Among the academics, meanwhile, the competition wasn't always friendly. Martin D. Jenkins, the legendary president of Morgan State College, regularly twitted his counterpart in College Park, the equally legendary H. C. ("Curley") Byrd. Blacks preferred such colleges as the University of Pennsylvania and NYU, Mr. Jenkins told Mr. Byrd, "because they do not have a high regard for the quality of instruction at Maryland."

Mr. Byrd defended his school but said admitting blacks was "not realistic."

(A few blacks used state scholarships to attend Loyola and Hopkins.)

That was in 1949. Forty-six years later, Dr. Carroll says she does not want young African-Americans to forget the lessons of this slice of Baltimore history. "There was so much silliness," she said. "If blacks and whites had to occupy the same railroad car, they would tape up a sheet of brown paper to divide us. It's amazing the lengths people went to keep us from mixing.

"We're remiss if we don't share these stories with young people. They have to know the hurdles we had to jump."

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad