“Unbelievable. No way. You’ve got to be kidding” are the responses I often hear when I tell people that in the 1930s and 40s my mother and three of her four sisters went out of state to study journalism, compliments of the state of Maryland—tuition, room and board, and travel—because Morgan State University (the Baltimore-based Black college) did not have a journalism major at the time and the University of Maryland refused to admit Black students. Today Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), including Morgan State, which has record freshman enrollment this Fall, offer as many or more programs as the often better- financed Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). But that wasn’t the case, as revealed in this 1991 interview Fern Ingersoll conducted with my mother, Frances L. Murphy II for the Washington Press Club Foundation’s oral history project:
Murphy: Before I came out of high school, Parren Mitchell, who later became a congressman, applied for the University of Maryland, and they refused to admit him. So, my dad (Dr. Carl Murphy) said to the governor, “If you’re not going to let them go to the University of Maryland, then Maryland citizens ought to pay for them to go someplace else.” “Okay,” the governor said, “I’ll give you so much money and you will be chairman of a scholarship commission.” *There was only one stipulation: if you couldn’t get a course at Morgan State College and that course was offered at the University of Maryland, then you were entitled to room, board and tuition at any college you wanted to go to. So, three of us went to the University of Wisconsin with room, board, tuition and two travels home each semester on the state of Maryland because we could not get journalism at Morgan State College. It was offered at the University of Maryland School of Journalism. We couldn’t go there. So, they sent us away.
Ingersoll: Would that have been true for young people who wanted to be doctors and lawyers; any kind of professional?
Murphy: It was true for the pre-meds, as well as anyone who wanted a certain course like engineering because only the University of Maryland had that.
Ingersoll: Why Wisconsin?
Murphy: Wisconsin was the top journalism school. It was between the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin. He started my oldest sister Bettye off at the University of Minnesota. She ran into trouble trying to get in the dorm, so dad went looking for another school. Ida went to the University of Wisconsin first and then my sister Carlita (one of the twins). I was the last to go, but Carlita was still there. We stayed in the dormitory, until the war broke out. The other twin, Vashti went to my parents’ alma mater, Howard University.
Ingersoll: So, it was your father who looked for the right university for you girls.
Murphy: For anybody in my high school class. They would come to him, and he would say, “What do you want to do?”
Ingersoll: You graduated from high school in 1940?
Murphy: Yes, so it had to be around the mid-30s or sometime when the commission was started. They sent us all over the country to school, just to keep us out of the University of Maryland. Curly [Harry Clifton] Byrd was president of the University of Maryland. I can hear dad talking about “that Curly Byrd, who tells me that he wants no Negroes and no coloreds in the University of Maryland, and yet he still can’t get these professors to do what he wants them to do, or he can’t get his board to do what he wants them to do. Getting all this money from the state.” I can hear my dad talking about the new stadiums they’re going to have and everything, and we couldn’t study there.
Ingersoll: So, your father would help other young Black students to find the right place.
Murphy: That’s right. He was chairman of the commission. Dad would say to you, “If you want to be so and so, find one course that you want to take that Morgan doesn’t offer, so I can give you a scholarship.”
Murphy: A lot of people came to Morgan, but there were many who were going on to professional schools, so he wanted to make sure that they had everything that professional school said you were supposed to have. “Wait a minute,” he’d say. “Have you looked at the graduate school? Do you know what they’re going to require you to have? Does Morgan have all that?” Or he’d say to them, “You’re going to Morgan for this one year (or these two years) because you can do all that, but then you’ve got to have a scholarship so you can go off to so and so and ‘get the rest of it’.”
Today, we can get “the rest of it” (in fact, all of it) from many of the 107 HBCUs including Morgan, Hampton, Howard, North Carolina A&T, Florida A&M, Tuskegee, Xavier, Morehouse, Fisk, Spelman, and Clark Atlanta to name a few. Yet, equity is still an issue as evidenced by the recent $577 million settlement with the State of Maryland for its historic underfunding of the four HBCUs. As my mother would say, “it’s a sin and a shame” that it took a lawsuit and several years to make the State do the right thing. Perhaps we need Scholarship Commissions throughout the United States to ensure that all Black colleges and universities have what they need to not only support scholarships, but to build and maintain first class facilities, attract the best faculty and continue to provide a world class education for all students.
*The Maryland Commission on Scholarships for Negroes was created by the Maryland General Assembly in 1937. My paternal grandfather, Francis M. Wood, Ph.D., first Director of Colored Schools for Baltimore City, also served on the eight-member Commission.
To read more of the interview between Fran Ingersoll and Frances L. Murphy, II go to http://beta.wpcf.org/oralhistory/murph1.html
Note: Dr. Carl J. Murphy, publisher of the AFRO-American Newspapers, 1922-1967, was the first African American to chair the board of Morgan State College, serving from 1953-1967.
Dr. Draper, current AFRO publisher, retired from Morgan’s Board as vice chair in 2020, after 25 years of service.