A roadside marker unveiled this week commemorates the rich history of Morgan Park, a neighborhood in Northeast Baltimore that was first envisioned as a home for Morgan State University faculty and students.

In 1917, when Baltimore remained largely racially segregated, the then-president of Morgan looked at 50 properties citywide to relocate the now historically Black university. When it landed on its current site, the move spurred the creation of Morgan Park, the first planned Black residential development in Baltimore.

State agencies and the Morgan Park Improvement Association hosted a dedication ceremony on Wednesday to unveil the marker on East Cold Spring Lane and commemorate the founding of Morgan Park.

“My primary motivation for seeking a state historical marker for Morgan Park was the potential loss of our neighborhood’s legacy,” said Lenore Burts, co-chairperson of the Morgan Park Improvement Association.

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Burts, who worked for the past decade to get the neighborhood recognized, provided the text on the marker. The Maryland Department of Transportation and Maryland Historical Trust manage the state’s Roadside Historical Marker program, with the goal of educating the public on Maryland’s historical legacy.

Jawauna Greene, assistant secretary for public affairs and strategy at MDOT, said she was proud to help honor Morgan Park’s neighborhood legacy. “The Morgan Park historical marker is the latest in a series of markers that will highlight our shared history and help inform generations to come,” she said.

MDOT has been installing signs along roadways since the 1930s, and there are nearly 800 across the state, said Julie Schablitsky, chief archaeologist and MDOT’s director of cultural resources.

“What we’ve been trying to do in the last few years is accentuate and share Black history,” Schablitsky said. “There’s so many advanced people and places that have been overlooked over the years. ... This historical marker will stand for years to come.”

Community leaders and residents of Morgan Park gather on June 12, 2024 in front of the newly erected marker to commemorate the historic neighborhood.
Community leaders and residents of Morgan Park gather in front of the newly erected marker to commemorate the historic neighborhood. (Ronica Edwards/The Baltimore Banner)

A pioneering home-seeker

When John O. Spencer — the longest-serving president of Morgan for 35 years — commenced his search for the university’s current placement, he knew he needed space for Black faculty at a time when they were barred by Jim Crow segregation laws from purchasing homes in nearby white neighborhoods.

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He settled on the bucolic area with its rolling green hills and cold spring, near where the marker now sits. But the land at the time was part of Baltimore County, Morgan archivist Ida Jones explained.

“The white neighbors that were here — and it’s interesting because there were Black people here as well, but not an institution of Black people — thought the land was physically too pretty to spoil on Negros,” Jones said.

But the lack of paved roadways and transportation infrastructure meant Morgan faculty couldn’t commute from downtown Baltimore or other places, Jones said. “So, he [Spencer] created a neighborhood, the Morgan Park community, so faculty could live adjacent to the campus,” Jones said.

In light of the plan for Morgan Park and “ugliness that went on with this property,” the city actually moved its limits “just to make sure that Morgan was not in Baltimore County,” Jones said, adding that a fight to take Morgan’s charter away ensued but never amounted to anything.

Morgan Park eventually became home to many notable scholars, activists and civil rights leaders, including W.E.B. DuBois, renowned educator, author and civil rights activist and one of the founders of the NAACP; Carl Murphy of the Afro American newspaper, the longest-running African-American family-owned newspaper in the United States; Edward “Eddie” P. Hurt, a famed Morgan football coach and mathematics instructor; and Rebecca Carroll, the first African American to receive a Ph.D. at the University of Maryland.

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A resident of Morgan Park clings on to a book detailing the history of the Morgan Park community as a new Historic Marker is placed to commemorate the neighborhood.
A resident of Morgan Park holds a book detailing the history of the community. (Ronica Edwards/The Baltimore Banner)

Burt’s parents purchased their Morgan Park home from DuBois in 1949. Over the years, she said, the homes of notable residents who died or moved were sold to families and individuals who were unaware of the community’s rich heritage and significance to local and national history.

“The marker addresses our equal concern that young Morgan students learn of our legacy and appreciate their connection to our community,” Burts said.