“PROSPERING BECAUSE THAT’S ITS HISTORY”: BLACK RESILIENCE AND HONORS DEVELOPMENT IN HIGHER EDUCATION: MORGAN STATE UNIVERSITY AND THE STATE OF MARYLAND, 1867-1988
Dula, Traci Leigh Moody
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This study explores the origins and development of honors education at a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), Morgan State University, within the context of the Maryland higher education system. During the last decades, public and private institutions have invested in honors experiences for their high-ability students. These programs have become recruitment magnets while also raising institutional academic profiles, justifying additional campus resources. The history of higher education reveals simultaneous narratives such as the tension of post-desegregated Black colleges facing uncertain futures; and the progress of the rise and popularity of collegiate honors programs. Both accounts contribute to tracing seemingly parallel histories in higher education that speaks to the development of honors education at HBCUs. While the extant literature on honors development at Historically White Institutions (HWIs) of higher education has gradually emerged, our understanding of activity at HBCUs is spotty at best. One connection of these two phenomena is the development of honors programs at HBCUs. Using Morgan State University, I examine the role and purpose of honors education at a public HBCU through archival materials and oral histories. Major unexpected findings that constructed this historical narrative beyond its original scope were the impact of the 1935/6 Murray v Pearson, the first higher education desegregation case. Other emerging themes were Morgan’s decades-long efforts to resist state control of its governance, Maryland’s misuse of Morrill Act funds, and the border state’s resistance to desegregation. Also, the broader histories of Black education, racism, and Black citizenship from Dred Scott and Plessy, the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation to Brown, inform this study. As themes are threaded together, Critical Race Theory provides the framework for understanding the emerging themes. In the immediate wake of the post-desegregation era, HBCUs had to address future challenges such as purpose and mission. Competing with HWIs for high-achieving Black students was one of the unanticipated consequences of the Brown decision. Often marginalized from higher education research literature, this study will broaden the research repository of honors education by documenting HBCU contributions despite a challenging landscape.