Morgan State University, one of the nation’s oldest institutions founded to provide a college education to black students, was named a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The preservation group will work with the university to protect its cultural legacy and its architecture, the National Trust announced Tuesday.
Morgan State, the largest historically black university in Maryland, was founded in 1867, and its Baltimore-area campus includes 20 buildings eligible for listing on the National Register. Many were designed by black architects, and styles range from classical to brutalist.
“The National Trust believes historically black colleges and universities tell an important and often overlooked American story,” Stephanie Meeks, president and chief executive officer of the National Trust, said in a release. She added that she hopes the partnership will show how the preservation of older buildings can touch off growth.
David Wilson, president of Morgan State, said the university is excited and honored by the designation. “We have known of Morgan’s significance on the higher education stage for many years and now, as we prepare to celebrate our 150th anniversary, the world will know that, in fact, this university is a national treasure.”
Scholars at Morgan State have written about early civil rights efforts at the university — demonstrations beginning in the 1940s, and organized sit-ins years before those in Greensboro, N.C. — and its alumni include author Zora Neale Hurston and former congressman and NAACP head Kweisi Mfume.
Under Wilson’s leadership, and with the school of architecture — which is seeking accreditation in historic preservation — the university has begun work on parts of campus, including restoring the university chapel, which is listed on the National Register.
According to the National Trust, the 105 historically black universities have some of the country’s most beautiful architecture, but only a few have preservation plans. Many have put off needed maintenance for years because the universities are struggling financially. In 1998, the organization listed HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities), as a group, one the 11 most endangered historic places in the country, and the Getty Foundation stepped forward to fund plans for eight of the academic institutions. Last year the National Trust began working with Morgan State on a long-term plan that the university hopes will be a model for other HBCUs.
Founders Library at Howard University in Washington was named a National Treasure this spring.