African American History at UMB

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The 2019 student demographics for the University of Maryland, Baltimore. 73 percent are in state, 73 percent are women, 18 percent are African-American, 44 percent are minorities.

Current Student demographics for the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

Today, Diversity is one of the seven core values identified in the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s (UMB) Strategic Plan.  According to the Diversity Statement on the Core Value’s site, “The University is committed to a culture that is enriched by diversity and inclusion, in the broadest sense, in its thoughts, actions, and leadership.”  These values are reflected in the current student demographics of UMB. Unfortunately, diversity and inclusion was not always a value held by the university. In 1807, the College of Medicine was founded in Baltimore, establishing the University of Maryland.  As was the case with many institutions at this time, students tended to be white males from in or around Baltimore or Maryland.

It took over 80 years for the first African Americans to be accepted at the school.  The first African American graduates were Harry Sythe Cummings and Charles Johnson.  Both men graduated with honors from the School of Law in June 1889 and went on to practice law in the city.  Harry S. Cummings became the first African American Baltimore City Councilman in 1891.  That same year, Charles Johnson argued a case in the Court of Appeals, becoming one of the first African American lawyers to do so.

Unfortunately African American attendance at UMB was short lived.  At this point it is important to remember, UMB was a southern school in a southern state.  The Civil War had only occurred 25 to 30 years prior to Cummings and Johnson’s graduation.  Despite huge wins for African Americans at these times, change happened slowly and southern sentiments were still apparent.  According to a news article in the New York Times on September 15, 1890, “The white students of the Law, Medical, and Dental Departments of the university [of Maryland] sent a petition to the Faculty protesting against the admission of any colored students in the Law School.”

1889 School of Medicine Minutes rejecting African American Students.

Photograph of October 8, 1889 Minutes of the Faculty of Physik. Decision on admittance of two African American Students to the School of Medicine.

In October of 1889 the School of Medicine rejected the application of two African American students.  The faculty minutes state: “After general discussion it was Moved: ([by Professor Samuel C.] Chew) That the Dean be instructed to say in answer to the applications, that the Faculty deem it inexpedient to admit colored students to the medical class. Carried.”  This opinion of the faculty and pressure on the part of the students, including a petition signed by nearly all students, caused the Regents of the School of Maryland to refuse admittance of African American Students beginning in 1891.  At the time, two African American students—W. Ashbie Hawkins and John L. Dozier–were first-year school of law students; they were forced to leave the school. 

A few years later, an 1896 Supreme Court Decision, Plessy vs. Ferguson, legalized the practice of separate but equal institutions and facilities; beginning legalized segregation across the country.  This meant schools like the UMB could legally reject African American’s applications for admission provided there were opportunities for them to receive the same degrees at other institutions. 

From 1896 to 1934, UMB remained segregated. The first test of the legislation occurred in 1934, when Donald Gaines Murray, applied to the Law School and was rejected on account of his race.  Murray was represented by Thurgood Marshall.  In 1934, Marshall was a newly minted lawyer after graduating from Howard University after being rejected from the School of Law at the University of Maryland because of his race.  Murrya’s case went to court and in June 1935, the Baltimore City Court ruled in favor of Murray and he was admitted to the University of Maryland graduating in 1938. 

Areas of study for Scholarship awards through the Maryland Commission on Scholarships for Negroes. Material is part of the W.M. Hillegeist Papers in the Historical Collections, HS/HSL.

From Maryland Commission on Scholarships files, list of available fields of study for students.

Areas of study for Scholarship awards through the Maryland Commission on Scholarships for Negroes. Material is part of the W.M. Hillegeist Papers in the Historical Collections, HS/HSL.

Partially in response to lawsuits like Murray’s, in 1937  the state of Maryland passed a new act, Chapter 506 Article 49B..  This law budgeted $30,000 in scholarships for African Americans to attend schools in other states when degrees were not available in their desired fields in the state of Maryland.  For example, there were no Schools of Law that accepted African Americans in the state of Maryland; as a result those looking for that degree had to find schools outside the state, such as Howard University in Washington DC.  This school was private and costly, the $30,000 scholarships sought to make these degrees more affordable.  A commission called The Maryland Commission on Scholarships for Negroes, was created to facilitate these scholarships. 

As a result of this 1935 act, segregation remained in Maryland and at the professional schools in Baltimore until the late 1940s and early 1950s when new lawsuits and negative public opinion emerged.  Included in that those lawsuits were the 1949 Esther E. McCready case against the UM School of Nursing and

Donald W. Stewart, Class of 1955, one of two African American students to graduate from the School of Medicine that year. Stewart along with Roderick E. Charles were the first African American Graduates from that school.

Donald W. Stewart, School of Medicine, Class of 1955, from 1955 Terra Mariae yearbook. Stewart along with Roderick E. Charles were the first African American graduates from the School of Medicine in 1955.

1950 Donald W. Stewart case against the UM School of Dentistry.   McCready won her case and graduated from the School of Nursing in 1953.  Stewart’s case was dropped after the Board of Regents ruled to allow African American admittance into the Professional and Graduate Schools of the University of Maryland.  Stewart graduated from the School of Medicine in 1955.  By 1954, the Regents voted to allow admittance for African Americans at all levels of the University. 

The road for African Americans at UMB was still not easy after the 1955 Board of Regents decision.  Yet, early graduates paved the way for the successes of today’s African Americans students, faculty, administrators, and staff here at UMB.  Throughout Black History Month, we will be sharing some of their stories.



“Colored Students Ruled Out.: No More will be Admitted to the Maryland Law School.” New York Times (1857-1922); Sep 15, 1890; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times with Index, pg. 1.

Core Values. (2018). Retrieved from:

“McCready Fought for the Right to be Trained as a Nurse; Bridges to the Past.” The Sun (1837-1994); Jun 22, 2005; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Sun, pg. 1 E.

Minutes, Faculty of Physik. October 8,1889. Historical Collections, Health Sciences and Human Services Library.

Nice, Harry W., Session Laws of Maryland, Annapolis: Frederick Green, 1937, reproduced in William Hand Browne, Edward C. Papenfuse, et. al. eds., Archives of Maryland, 215+ volumes, (Baltimore and Annapolis, Md., 1883-), 323: 1071-1074. Retrieved from: Maryland State Archives.–1071.html.

“State of Maryland: Two Colored Lawyers Argue before the Court of Appeals…” Correspondence of the Baltimore Sun. The Sun (1837-1994); Jan 23, 1891; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Baltimore Sun pg. 4.

 “Two Colored Graduates in Law.” The Sun (1837-1994); Apr 10, 1889; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Baltimore Sun, pg. 4.

 “U. of M. Vote to End Curb on Negroes: to Admit All Qualified Residents to Every Level of Work.” The Sun (1837-1993); Jun 26, 1954; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Baltimore Sun pg. 26.

Williams, Juan. “Poetic Justice.” New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]18 Jan 2004: 4A.25.

W.M. Hillegeist Maryland Commission on Scholarships for Negroes Papers. Historical Collections, Health Sciences and Human Services Library.

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