Morgan State University’s Civil Rights Legacy Revealed

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Reads drugstore in BaltimoreMorgan State University (MSU), the largest HBCU in the state of Maryland — known for its lavish homecomings, prominent scholars, and even an occasional late night party — also has a rich legacy in the Civil Rights Movement.

At this year’s convocation and other campus events, MSU honored the legacy of hundreds of former Morgan State students who played a pivotal role in the sit-in movement seven years before the widespread launch of the tactic.

Back in 1953, Morgan State students were lining up daily at a lunch counter in Read’s Drugstore in Baltimore, demanding desegregation. A manager or waitress would try to lure the daily protesting bunch from their seats by reading Maryland’s trespassing statute. The students didn’t budge.

Picketing, sit-ins, and hundreds of arrests eventually led to some changes in segregated Baltimore. As a result of Morgan State’s relentless student activism, in 1955 owners of Read’s Drugstore opened their lunch counter to Blacks; in 1959 Arundel Ice Cream also began to change their practices.

This year’s festivities, surrounding the commemoration of the brave MSU alumni, were accompanied by a range of students, faculty, visitors, and influential Black leaders from around the country. A list of attendees included John Lewis, the Freedom Rider-turned-congressman; Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings; Lt. Governor Anthony Brown; and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

“It is important that our students know the legacy of their school and whose footsteps they are walking today,” said MSU President David Wilson as he stood at the unveiling ceremony of the recreated lunch counter at Read’s Drugstore. Along the walls near the lunch counter exhibit is a stunning pictorial display that takes viewers on a tour of Civil Rights activism in Baltimore from 1947-1963.

University of Maryland law professor Larry S. Gibson, the person responsible for the timeless exhibit, donated his collection to MSU and it will remain in the main hall of the University Student Center.

While speaking to a crowd at Morgan’s campus Gibson said, “Finally we’re going to get some history straight.”

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