McCready was a genuine first Pioneer: City native was the first black to earn a nursing diploma from the University of Maryland at Baltimore.


WHEN ESTHER McCready finally entered the University of Maryland School of Nursing in 1950, two people approached her. One was another nursing freshman, who crossed the color line to welcome Ms. McCready warmly, putting her own career at the school in jeopardy.

The other person was an instructor who saw Ms. McCready standing alone, approached and said:

"If you don't pray to God, you won't get out of here, because nobody's here for you."

Ms. McCready replied, "If God intends for me to get out, no one can stop me."

God intended. Esther McCready graduated in 1953, the first African-American to earn a nursing diploma from the University of Maryland at Baltimore -- and only the second black to earn a professional degree from the University of Maryland.

Ms. McCready was in Baltimore on Monday to be honored during Black History Month by the university that admitted her under duress -- and that, 43 years after her graduation, gave belated thanks.

Donald Gaines Murray, admitted under court order to the School of Law, had blazed the trail in 1936. After 14 years and abundant litigation, Esther McCready fought her way into the university.

When she won her case, she and Donald Murray hurried to give the good news to the bedridden Charles Hamilton Houston, the famous lawyer who had represented her in her early filings. Her new lawyer was a student of Houston's named Thurgood Marshall.

There are "firsts," and then there are "firsts," particularly during Black History Month, and it's easy to trivialize: first black cheerleader at Bless You Senior High School. But Ms. McCready was a genuine first.

She remembered the frosty reception to her admission in Baltimore. She was hardly an outsider; she had been born at Johns Hopkins Hospital and had grown up within sight of the nursing school she would attend.

"I was delivered by a doctor at Johns Hopkins University, and if you were born at Hopkins or delivered by a Hopkins doctor, they followed you in their clinic until you were 16 years old," she said. "That planted the seed. I always knew I would be interested in nursing. I grew up three blocks from Hopkins and went to Dunbar on the East Side."

Ms. McCready was hardly the first African-American interested in entering the state's university. For years, Maryland had been paying the full fare for blacks who would agree to attend higher education out of state. Such an opportunity, Ms. McCready said, was dangled before her, but she refused.

The audience Monday, Ms. McCready said, "could not imagine the various things that happened" in her years at UMAB. There was the professor who lectured to the side of the hall where she wasn't sitting, openly ignoring her, and the dean who failed at a public affair to acknowledge the scholarship she had won, while acclaiming all others.

But like so many civil rights pioneers, Ms. McCready is not bitter. She hasn't wasted her effort. For a time, she worked as head nurse at the former Morgan State College. She has taught school for the past 16 years in New York City and developed a third talent: singing. She has taken undergraduate and graduate courses at the Manhattan School of Music and will sing with a choir at Carnegie Hall Feb. 16, to be followed by a tour of Germany.

(She declined to give her age, but she said she's about to retire from her New York job.)

Today, 83 of 340 undergraduates at UM's School of Nursing are black. That's an improvement Ms. McCready said she "was shocked to hear about."

She was showered with accolades Monday by guests ranging from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to Del. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam.

And the university shed a few more pounds of its historic burden.

Trashing 'Sesame Street'

Nothing is sacred.

Now there's a frontal attack on "Sesame Street." City Journal publishes an article by Kay S. Hymowitz that slices the program, seen by 77 percent of American children and winner of 58 Emmys, as if it were a piece of Roy Rogers chicken.

"Sesame Street," Ms. Hymowitz writes, "effectively insures the conversion of the next generation to TV's beliefs and gods" by its "unwavering devotion to the tone and idiom of television" and "a combination of savvy timing, sophisticated image making and vigorous promotion."

Lost has been attention to children's curiosity and to their natural inclination to deeper, even darker, imaginations.

Oh, well, let them have Gordon, Maury, Jenny and Geraldo.

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