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A Black History Month Interview with Archivist Anne Turkos

February 6, 2013

Dave Ottalini 304-405-4076

Anne TurkosUniversity Communications originally posted this interview with UMD Archivist Anne Turkos in 2008. We've asked her to take another look and have updated it for 2013 as we look forward to another Black History Month.




Q – What can you tell the University of Maryland community about the early days of Maryland Agricultural College and African Americans?

Any question we receive in the University Archives about the early history of the Maryland Agricultural College is always challenging. 

Very few college records exist from this period of time; they have either disappeared over the years or were destroyed in the fire that swept through the college's administration and Barracks buildings in 1912. We also have very little documentation from the college's founder, Charles Benedict Calvert, just a letter or short note here and there. The role of African Americans in the early history of the Maryland Agricultural College is particularly unclear, and a group of undergraduate students, under the direction of professor of history Dr. Ira Berlin, sought to clarify this.  They examined census records and published accounts of the college's construction and funding, among many other documents, and the report "Knowing Our History," produced in 2009, was the result. Many people believe that Calvert lent his slaves to the college to help erect the first buildings, but we have not been able to confirm this to date. We do know that African Americans were employed on campus later in the nineteenth and early in the twentieth centuries, particularly in the college kitchen.

Q - Talk about the first African Americans to enroll at Maryland, and why the university is considered to have been a leader in integration.

Hiram WhittleThe first African American students enrolled in the University of Maryland in the late 1940s and early 1950s, well in advance of the Brown v. Board of Education decision that many regard as the beginnings of desegregation of education nationwide. The first black students, Myrtle Holmes Wake, John Francis Davis and Rose Shockley Wiseman, enrolled in 1948 and took graduate-level education courses through the university. They did not attend classes on campus, however, receiving all of their instruction at sites beyond College Park. The first time they were ever on campus was their graduation day in June 1951, a truly amazing story. Our first African American undergraduate student, Hiram Whittle, enrolled the semester that Wake, Davis, and Wiseman graduated. Whittle, an engineering student, transferred before completing his degree, however.

Hiram Whittle and classMany people are also not aware that the University of Maryland had a leadership role in the integration of athletics in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). Terrapins broke the color barrier in football (Darryl Hill, 1963), track (Elmore Hunter, 1965), swimming (John Williams, 1964-1965), and men's basketball (Billy Jones, 1965).


Q - The University of Maryland has many distinguished African American alumni. Can you tell me a little bit about them?

Many of our African American students have had very distinguished careers after graduating from the university. Several have even been recognized in our Alumni Hall of Fame, including Manning Marable, a leading authority on African American history; Renaldo Nehemiah, track star, U.S. Olympian, and professional football player; Leonard Elmore, lawyer, professional basketball player, and television sports commentator; Carmen Balthrop, opera singer; Evelyn Pasteur Valentine, distinguished educator and founder of the Pasteur Center for Strategic Management; and Parren Mitchell, civil rights activist and U.S. Congressman. Other African American alumni of note include Dominique Dawes, Olympic gymnast; Vashti McKenzie, the first woman to be elected bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church; Cedric Dent and Delious Kennedy, Grammy-winning recording artists; Aaron McGruder, nationally known cartoonist; and numerous athletes who have been successful in the pro ranks, such as Torrey Smith, John Lucas, Vicky Bullett, Vernon Davis and Walt Williams.

Q - Maryland was also a leader in bringing African Americans to campus as faculty members - and we have some world-renowned faculty today.

Our first African American full professor was M. Lucia James, who taught in the College of Education from 1965 to 1977. Dr. James led the way for many distinguished faculty who call the university home today, for example: Sylvester James Gates, internationally renowned and award-winning physicist who was just awarded the National Medal of Science; David Driskell, leading authority on African American art and distinguished artist in his own right; and Carmen Balthrop, an internationally recognized opera singer.

Q - A lot of our students chose Maryland because of its diversity - they see the fact that the university is multi-cultural as a real strength. It says a lot about how far we've come since the founding of the university in 1856.

The University of Maryland has worked very hard to create a diverse campus community that is respectful of all people, no matter the color of their skin, their ethnic or religious background or their personal beliefs. And the changes have been very visible and very dramatic. 

Over the last 157 years, we have grown from a student body of 34 white males, who enrolled in October 1859 when the Maryland Agricultural College opened its doors, to a student body of more than 36,000 students, 12,299 of them (as of fall 2012) persons of color. Nearly half the student body now is female. Our students come from all 50 states and nearly 130 foreign countries, not just from Missouri, North and South Carolina, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, as our first students did. A University of Maryland student in 2013 has the chance to learn about so many different cultures and points of view from everyone he or she meets on campus. And Dr. Loh's emphasis on each student having an international experience before graduating only adds enormous value to the diversity we enjoy right here in College Park . We are very fortunate to be part of this multi-cultural environment, and I hope that all members of our campus community can take advantage of the opportunities such an environment offers.

Additional Africa and African American experts at the University of Maryland can be found here.