Dating from 1898, Morrill Hall is the oldest academic building on University of Maryland’s campus. The hall is named for Justin Morrill, the U.S. Congressman who sponsored a series of federal land grant and funding bills aimed at increasing training in agriculture, military science, and “mechanic arts”—vocations such as blacksmithing, shoemaking, carpentry, and bricklaying—as well as a lesser emphasis on the traditional liberal arts, at U.S. higher education institutions.
Specifically targeting the states of the former Confederacy, the second Morrill Act of 1890 conditioned funding on states providing for the higher education of African Americans, either by admitting them to predominantly white institutions or by earmarking a portion of the federal funds for segregated institutions. The law allocated up to $25,000 a year to the semi-public Maryland Agricultural College in College Park. In compliance with the federal mandate, university trustees directed one-fifth of the funding to the historically black vocational institute Princess Anne Academy, now University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
Despite graduating a single African American from its law school in 1885, University of Maryland remained racially segregated until the early 1950s. The fortunes of Princess Anne Academy meanwhile waxed and waned in the post-Reconstruction era. Originally totaling about 150 students, the school’s enrollment dwindled to as few as 34 students in the early 1930s. Likewise, the curriculum at Princess Anne reached college-level accreditation in 1927 only to sink below high school level with the onset of the Great Depression.
Through the 1930s and 40s, segregationist University of Maryland president Harry C. “Curley” Byrd sought to stanch public pressure to integrate the state’s flagship institution by increasing state funding to Princess Anne Academy. In 1948, Byrd changed the school’s name to Maryland State College and quadrupled its state investment. In 1951, the University of Maryland finally accepted the first African-American graduate student to the College Park campus, and in 1954 it admitted its first two African-American undergraduates, pursuant with the U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education. Unfortunately, the enrollment of African Americans at the College Park campus would remain stymied at one or two percent throughout the next decade.
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