A massive red brick wall has dominated Hillen Road near Morgan State University's entrance for more than 80 years. Many people viewed it as just an alley or served as protection for garage structures, but the structure served as a "spite wall" to prevent Black students from entering a once predominantly white neighborhood of Baltimore.
As Morgan State, a historically Black university, began to attract more Black students in the area in the late 1930s, white Baltimore residents worked to build the wall. University President David Wilson, school officials, and residents watched as the barrier was destroyed on Tuesday.
“We had no choice but to tear it down,” Wilson said in an interview. “We couldn’t have this symbol of hate staring down every single day. This was an easy decision for us. It was time for us to tear down that hate.”
In the early 1940s, the wall was constructed along Hillen Road in front of the school's entrance and continued into Northwood Shopping Center. Wilson said local residents and neighborhood associations in the white neighborhood expressed concerns about the school when it relocated to its current location in 1917.
In 1939, the state changed Morgan College into a public institution to help Black people, Wilson said, but that only "exacerbated" racial strife. During that time, Baltimore began to adopt restrictive racial covenants that limited Blacks' access to housing - one of the first cities to implement these policies.
The Baltimore Afro-American newspaper published articles chronicling the debate: College trustees called plans for the wall “discriminatory to Morgan College,” while Morris Macht, part of one of Maryland’s largest residential building companies at the time, denied that it had anything to do with race. Ultimately, a zoning board approved the wall, and construction began in 1942, according to the Afro-American.
“For the white community, this spite wall was to send a signal and to physically create a divider that would symbolize the segregation that they stood for,” explained Dale Green, a Morgan State professor and architectural historian. “They were not supportive of the integration of African Americans into the greater society. The wall was to fortify the whites from the Blacks.”
In addition to destroying the wall, the university is currently expanding and reorganizing under “Morgan Momentum,” said Cheryl Stewart, a spokeswoman for Morgan State. In her opinion, now is a good time to “remove the wall so we can continue to build and move forward.”
With time, the wall's original intent faded into obscurity, leaving only a few people to remember its history. Even though the wall is gone, Wilson said the university doesn't intend to ignore the past. The wall will remain in place, he said, as a historical marker where students can learn about its dark past.
It is a powerful, determined, and honorable decision for Morgan State University to remove a symbol entrenched in racism from tarnishing its rich legacy in Black history.
Source: NBC News