The Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland wants to ensure the state’s lone land-grant Historically Black University, the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, is fully funded every year going forward. It comes after the Biden Administration found that 19 public land grant HBCUs were underfunded for three decades by their respective states by $12.6-billion.

Maryland-Eastern Shore is one of those schools.

Land-grant colleges and universities have a specific focus on agriculture and engineering, fields that leaders wanted more graduates of following the Industrial Revolution.

The Morrill Act, signed in 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln, set aside federal land for such states to startup schools. The second Morrill Act, passed in 1890, mandated state’s to create land-grant schools specifically for Black students if they refused to integrate the original ones.

Maryland’s original land-grant school, the University of Maryland-College Park, did not integrate until 1951. In the meantime, Maryland-Eastern Shore became Maryland’s lone land-grant HBCU. Others across the country include Virginia State, Florida A&M, Prairie View A&M and North Carolina A&T, which has the highest enrollment of any HBCU in the country.

The University of Maryland Eastern Shore opened its doors Sept. 13, 1886, when it was known initially as the Delaware Conference Academy under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Greeting the nine students who showed up that Monday were two educators, Benjamin O. Bird and his wife, Portia Lovett Bird.

Records indicate by the following spring some three dozen students, likely from farming families in the surrounding area, were enrolled.

The prep school-style institution was founded as a branch of Baltimore’s Centenary Bible Institute, which in 1890 became known as Morgan College – the same year federal legislation passed to support historically black institutions that offered instruction in agriculture and related fields.

With the adoption of the 2nd Morrill Act, the “Industrial Branch” of Morgan in rural Somerset County started receiving funding through the state of Maryland – and eventually was rechristened Princess Anne Academy.

This federal source of money also created a relationship with the Maryland Agricultural College, now the University of Maryland, College Park, although the campus in Princess Anne remained a part of Morgan College – at the time a private institution.

Like the other 18 schools, Baltimore City delegate Stephanie Smith says Maryland-Eastern Shore saw lower funding that the Biden Administration discovered.

Del. Jheanelle Wilkins, who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, speaks at a news conference on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024 in Annapolis, Md. Caucus members outlined priorities in Maryland’s legislative session to improve health, access to housing, minority business opportunities, education and criminal justice reforms. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

“In Maryland, because we only have one institution, over the past three decades that’s approximately $320-million,” Smith said at a press conference January 18th in Annapolis.

She went on to say Governor Wes Moore’s budget proposal for next fiscal year includes $5-million for Maryland-Eastern Shore to begin to repay the lost funding.

The Legislative Black Caucus included equity funding for the school as part of its legislative priorities for the 2024 session of the Maryland General Assembly.