Reflections on the 2019 Morgan State University Founders Day Convocation: A Celebration of Peace, Unity, and Reconciliation

Thursday, November 7, 2019 was a Historic day for Morgan State University and for the Community of Lauraville, where I have proudly resided for nearly 58 years. On the occasion of the University’s annual Founder’s Day Convocation, the long, contentious history between these two communities was formally recognized, confronted, and reconciled in a program that was both academically rooted and emotionally significant.

As I joined with the crowd that filled the James H. and Louise Hayley Gilliam Concert Hall in the Carl J. Murphy Fine Arts Center, I stood on the shoulders of my parents, Oliver F. (Jack) and Dorothy B. Oldham, who brought me and my younger brother, David O. Oldham (all deceased, now) to live in Lauraville in the summer of 1962. I stood as a recently elected member of the Board of the Lauraville Improvement Association, the organization my parents served, with both pride and humility. I stood for all my fellow Black residents of Lauraville who overcame prejudice and outright hatred yet still call Lauraville home. I stood for all my fellow White residents of Lauraville who rejected prejudice and outright hatred to embrace us in this community. I stood as a homeowner in Lauraville because it is a beautiful place to live. I stood as an unofficial member of the Morgan State University family, in honor of my family members and friends who attended this National Treasure institution.

 

But my personal story is but a thread in the tapestry of race relations in these communities, which represents the history of America.

After a grand and stately procession of Morgan’s Board of Trustees, professors, and honored guests, with introductions and greetings, the Founders Day Address was delivered by Mr. Steven K. Ragsdale, member of the Board of Directors of the Baltimore City Historical Society.

Aided by slides of documents and photos he compiled for his thoroughly researched book about the history of Morgan and its purchase of its current campus at E. Coldspring Lane and Hillen Road (some of which are included in the program book), Mr. Ragsdale laid bare the scourge of racism and hatred—not just by Lauraville and other Northeast Baltimore neighborhoods but, indeed, by communities all over Baltimore (including Mt. Washington)—which aimed to stop the school from expanding operations in “their” neighborhoods, in 1917. For current students in the audience, this story may have come as a surprise, but for many of us adults in the room, it was confirmation of the underside of our community, despite the public persona of Lauraville as a “diverse” community.

However, on this day, we were all witnesses to the power of purpose, perseverance, and positivity that produced this now modern, esteemed, and still expanding institution of higher learning.

A stirring, uplifting, and emotional Peace, Unity and Reconciliation Ceremony followed, with remarks from Northeast Baltimore community leaders, a candle-lighting ceremony in which these leaders pledged to go forward in peace and unity, and a vibrant musical and dance performance by Morgan State students, celebrating this spirit of hope for the future, which I captured on video [https://www.dropbox.com/s/1was9y30c6j29fl/20191107_121316.mp4?dl=0].

The complete convocation is available for viewing at:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=1Rkk2pUQCn8&app=desktop.


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