Professor Larry Gibson served as curator of a permanent exhibit of Morgan State University’s civil rights legacy that was unveiled in November 2011. This special event and exhibit entitled, “Carry the Torch: Continuing Morgan’s Legacy of Civil Rights and Equal Justice,” was presented by the Robert M. Bell Center for Civil Rights in Education at Morgan State. The center is named in honor of the Honorable Robert Bell, chief judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals, who serves on the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law’s Board of Visitors.
The event and exhibit were held in honor of the Morgan State University alumni, including Judge Bell, who served as student activists and who organized sit-ins and other civil rights demonstrations at local lunch counters, theaters and department stores to protest and dismantle racial segregation in public accommodations in the 1950s and 1960s.
The exhibit organized by Prof. Gibson includes replicas of lunch counter stools at Read’s Drug Store where students held sit-ins after they were refused service. It also showcases enlarged reprints of articles and photographs from the Afro-American Newspapers (now the AFRO), the only newspaper in the region that provided extensive coverage of the movement.
The exhibit, housed in Morgan State’s student center, documents the activities of the courageous students who protested, demonstrated and fought vigorously for civil rights. It also serves to empower future generations of students to carry the torch and continue the legacy of civil rights and equal justice in the face of today’s challenges.
In its coverage of the exhibit, the Washington Post noted that:
“Gibson, a tenacious scholar, has unearthed evidence that Morgan State entered racial politics several years earlier” than “the start of the broader student civil rights movement…in 1955.”
“In 1947, several hundred Morgan State students demonstrated in Annapolis for equitable funding from the state. In 1948, Morgan students began to picket performances at Baltimore’s Ford’s Theatre, where black patrons were compelled to use a rear staircase and sit in the second balcony…”
The newspaper the AFRO quotes Prof. Gibson as follows:
“Morgan’s students have repeatedly been innovators in adopting strategies that were later used by other groups in the civil rights movement,” he said. “Six hundred students occupied Annapolis in 1947 demanding equitable funding for Morgan’s facilities and programs. This is the earliest example of student demonstration, black or white, in the history of this country.”
The two-day celebration featured two keynote addresses. The first was delivered by Judge Bell, an acclaimed Morgan State graduate, who, in 1960, was among 12 African American students to conduct a sit-in at Hooper's restaurant in downtown Baltimore, where they had been refused service. When Bell and his peers refused to leave, they were arrested, convicted of criminal trespass in the Circuit Court of Baltimore City, and fined $10. They appealed their convictions to the Maryland Court of Appeals, which upheld their conviction. They then appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, which granted certiorari.
The second keynote the next day was given by Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, a leader in the civil rights movement and chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), who played a key role in the struggle to end segregation.
The festivities culminated with the unveiling of the civil rights exhibition researched and organized by Prof. Gibson, who also moderated a panel discussion entitled, “The Voices of Our Forbearers,” in which Morgan State alumni shared their experiences as student activists in their efforts to dismantle segregation and overcome discrimination.