by J. Wyndal Gordon
Thank you Doc Cheatham of the National Action Network (NAN) for being an ardent court observer of the HBCU litigation in downtown Baltimore, Courtroom 7D, Garmatz Building, U.S. District Court of Maryland on Lombard Street. Cheathem was invited by me to speak with the Monumental City Bar Association’s (“MCBA”) General Body on January 26, 2012, to give members details on the case and to explain the import of supporting and participating in this most crucial litigation of our time. Our mere presence in the courtroom as conscientious observers was all that he had asked in exchange for the information shared.
On January 31, 2012, I accepted Cheatham’s request, walked down to the Federal Court and spent the entire day observing; and I was glad I did. The case was truly a clash of the Titans. It was so intriguing that I couldn’t leave until the day was almost done. I urge anyone who believes in justice and equality to do the same. The HBCU litigation is serious. It is the Brown v. Board of Education of our day and is being watched all over the country by everyone except, perhaps, by those it should matter to the most, –Us. The Plaintiffs, Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education (“Coalition”) consists of Maryland’s four HBCUs: Morgan State University, Coppin State University, Bowie State University, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. They are represented and lead by none other than the esteemed nationally renowned civil rights attorney, John C. Brittain, Micheal D. Jones, et al. The Defendant, State of Maryland (“State”), is being represented and lead by Craig A. Thompson, Kenneth L. Thompson, et al. The identified cast are well respected attorneys on a local and national scale, joined at center court for a battle royale, –and they happen to be African Americans pitted against one another in a fight for equality that would make Armageddon seem like a schoolyard tussle. Yesterday, I do not believe a single spectator in the entire courtroom was disappointed by the performances on both sides of the trial table. Not to mention Craig A. Thompson and Kenneth L. Thompson are erstwhile members of MCBA, although I firmly believe they are on the wrong side of this issue.
Be that as it may, perhaps the most obvious and strange irony of the day was remembering when Craig A. Thompson hosted the radio show “The Front Page” on Morgan State University Radio WEAA, 88.9 FM. I used to listen to the show and it was actually pretty good. Interestingly, he’s now fighting to hold back the very institution that was at least partly responsible for his professional development and elevating his stock. This is not to single out and slight my good friend Craig; I have a great deal of respect for him, his body of work, and stellar accomplishments; –but it is a fact that is undeniably newsworthy and worth mentioning. Arguably, it either shows Craig to be the consummate professional who believes that everyone should have competent legal counsel, no matter how
unpopular the cause, –including the State of Maryland, or that he has come back to dine off of the hand that once nourished him. However, it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I just happen to be Morgan State University alum, *tongue in cheek* :o). Craig requested that I invite him to speak with MCBA about the State’s position in the litigation. I graciously accepted. We are humbled by his courage. He is duly invited.
The fact is many of us have benefitted from HBCUs whether we attended them or not. They offer opportunities that are not readily available in other venues. To me, the Coalition’s case is about extending those same opportunities to all manner of people. It is about forcing the State to expand its HBCUs mission(s), programs, and funding, as required by law, and to honor its 2000 Partnership Agreement with the US Office of Civil Rights. It about ensuring that HBCUs become more competitive in their quest to increase enrollment and educate more students around the world. In other words, HBCUs want the capacity to do the things well-funded traditionally white Maryland institutions have been doing with our State and federal tax dollars for years –educate more people. Now, who can legitimately argue with that?
The Coalition sued the State of Maryland for violating the 14th Amendment of the Constitution as interpreted by US v. Fordice, 505 U.S. 717 (1992). They argue that Maryland has “fail[ed] to eradicate policies and practices regarding institutional mission, programmatic duplication and inequality, and operational and capital funding that are traceable to the prior system of de jure segregation.” The HBCU litigation is about diversity and inclusion. In these modern times of multi-cultural and diverse student backgrounds, Maryland’s HBCUs seek to encourage all races, nationalities, and social statuses to consider HBCUs for a quality education –not solely African Americans and the disadvantaged. Although HBCUs are proud of their heritage and remain committed to their historic mission, unless the State: (1) expands its HBCUs’ limited mission that segregates African Americans and the disadvantaged from others, (2) provides for lawful operational and capital funding to attract a more diverse student body, and (3) stop permitting the unlawful duplication and inequality of unique HBCU flagship programs by traditionally white institutions in close geographical proximity, HBCUs will become less attractive, and thus unable to compete in the ever changing global market. As a result, the educational experience offered by Maryland’s HBCUs will become less enticing and their very existence will become a relic of the past.
As agreed by the members assembled at our meeting on January 26, 2012, MCBA stands firmly against segregation and other forms of discrimination. We vehemently support with fervor the Coalition’s quest to force the State of Maryland to comply with the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution, and to honor its contractual agreement to eradicate de jure segretation in education. I am asking all of our lawyers to please join us in supporting the HBCU litigation by “making” time to sit in the courtroom and observe this most important litigation of our day. I encourage our members to stand among our passionate and committed comrades in academia, and to truly take note of what is at stake, –the future of our children and our beloved HBCUs depend on it.
J. Wyndal Gordon “The Warrior Lawyer”
President of the Monumental City Bar Association (MCBA)
MCBA is the oldest African American Bar Association in the State of Maryland
founded in 1935 in part by US Supreme Court Justice, Hon. Thurgood Marshall