Dr. Samuel L. Myers Sr., an economist and former Bowie State University president who was an advocate for historically Black schools, died Jan. 8 at the Collington Retirement Village in Mitchellville. He was 101.
His son, Dr. Samuel L. Myers Jr. said his father died of natural causes. “He could no longer eat or swallow,” his son said.
Born in Baltimore and raised on Stricker Street, he was the son of David E. Myers, a steward on a Baltimore shipping line, and his wife, Edith Reid, a laundress. Both his parents were Jamaican immigrants in the early 20th century.
“Half the children on Stricker Street died of the Spanish flu at the time my father was born,” said his son, who lives in North Oaks, Minnesota. “Those who were survivors had a sense of urgency to contribute to society.”
He was a 1936 honors graduate of Frederick Douglass High School, where he played football and was class salutatorian, a debater and newspaper editor.
His son also said, “My father was an expressive and eloquent orator. He was a dynamic speaker.”
Dr. Myers earned a degree in economics at Morgan State University in 1940 and a master’s degree, also in economics, at Boston University. Throughout his school years he observed the economic differences in the Black community and determined he wanted to effect change.
Dr. Myers was drafted into the Army during World War II. In a biography, he told of the racial discrimination he encountered within the military service. He and other African Americans were told to clean white barracks. “At one point, Myers was nearly [court-martialed] after protesting the exclusion of black officers from the general officers’ club,” his biography said.
He was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, where he guarded Japanese prisoners of war. He left the Army as a captain.
After his military service, he earned a doctorate in economics from Harvard University in 1949, where he was a Rosenwald Fellow. His dissertation was on consumer product safety, and he worked with economist John Kenneth Galbraith.
He then became a research economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics and a professor at Morgan State University. He taught economics and was the chair of the Social Science Department.
In 1967 he became the president of Bowie State University. He led the establishment of a master’s degree program, the first graduate degree program at the school.
He also guided the school through a 1968 student boycott. Students complained that the school was poorly funded economically by the state and that teachers’ salaries were low in comparison to those at other state schools. They also said its buildings were termite-ridden and antiquated.
“The anger over poor conditions at Bowie State had been festering for some time. Students were upset about the dilapidated buildings where they lived and attended class,” said a 2018 Capital Gazette article. “They were tired of having their school left out when budget allocations were made and frustrated by deficiencies in the curriculum.”
A number marched to Annapolis and complained to Gov. Spiro T. Agnew.
“They were arrested and held briefly when they refused to leave the State House and Gov. Agnew closed down the college for two weeks,” The Evening Sun said in a 1973 article that described how Dr. Myers turned the school around.
He increased and expanded the university’s curriculum and increased student enrollment while getting additional aid from the state.
“Dr. Myers, who remained calmly on the side of the students throughout the disturbances, supported their claim that Bowie had been badly neglected by the state,” the newspaper article said.
His biography said Dr. Myers was able to convince the students to return their focus to their studies. “Myers’ wife Marion is also credited with being a critical figure in subduing the tensions of students. She ... invited them to her and her husband’s campus home, often late at night, and gave them home cooked meals.”
Then-state Attorney General Francis B. Burch subsequently visited the campus and reported about the inadequate conditions.
Dr. Myers left Bowie State in 1977 and was named president of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education. He represented historically Black colleges and universities and lobbied for their economic advancement.
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He was later chair of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education. In 1998 he became chair of Minority Access Incorporated, which works to diversify campuses and corporate work sites.
In addition to his son, survivors include a daughter, Dr. Yvette Marion Myers of Durham, North Carolina; two granddaughters; and two great-grandsons. His wife of 64 years, Marion Rieras Myers, a teacher, died in 2006. Another daughter, Tama Myers Clark, died in 2020.