Race Relations: 1965

In November 1965, the same Committee followed up its report with another one called “Racial Discrimination and Johns Hopkins University.” It noted that since the 1961 report there had been much discussion about addressing problems of race relations, local businesses had mostly ended racial discrimination, and in 1964 landlords were made to sign a pledge to end discriminatory policies. However, the pledge was not well adhered to and some pledge-signers still wouldn’t rent to black students. In employment, JHU had taken the minimum steps to comply with Equal Opportunity Employment practices so that it would continue to receive grants. However, in 1965 all administrative and managerial employees were still white, and black employees still primarily did menial jobs. The 1965 report recommended an Affirmative-Action style policy: a “concerted effort” to find black employees for “prestige jobs.”

Black admissions were still very low. In 1965, 14 out of 1246 graduate students were black, while only 8 out of 1698 (and none of the freshmen) were. Johns Hopkins’s reputation as a white Southern university continued to persist, and black Baltimore residents still felt that Hopkins was inaccessible to them. The 1965 report made some new observations about the barriers to increased black admission: Hopkins still required a photograph with the application, a practice associated with discriminatory admissions; it placed too much emphasis on SATs compared to similar schools, thereby tying admissions to high school quality rather than ability to do college-level work; and its scholarship policies failed to attract low-income students. As a solution, the report suggested nationwide recruitment of black students, a reassessment of SAT policies, and a reform of financial aid.

Less than two weeks after the release of this report, admissions director Robert Bilgrave sent a position paper to Dean Robert Strider reviewing the admissions process in general. Bilgrave dedicated a significant portion of his memorandum to the problem of the “small number of Negro applicants attracted to Johns Hopkins.” The reasons he listed for the low number of applicants could have been taken directly from the reports of the Hopkins Committee for Basic Freedoms: concerns over discrimination (bolstered by JHU’s Southern location and the widely publicized racial incidents in Baltimore); the very costly tuition; and the high competition.  Bilgrave also revealed that in 1965, Hopkins was attempting many of the solutions advocated by the Committee for Basic Freedoms. It associated with several organizations that denounced segregation, it supported scholarships for black students, it increased admissions visits to black-dominated high schools, it included those schools in its mailing list, and it individually contacted “college-able” black students.

Despite all these efforts, Bilgrave lamented that the results had been disappointing. Although the number of black applicants rose from 1961-1964, in those years Hopkins received only 30 undergraduate applications in total from African-Americans, of whom 14 were admitted and 11 matriculated. Bilgrave affirmed that the number black applicants would not increase unless the Admissions Office put forth a “concerted effort” or adopted “a discriminatory policy in favor of the Negro.” However, Bilgrave expresses hope that improved socioeconomic conditions and further encouragement of education among African-Americans will continue to raise black enrolment rates. As indicated by these historical records, student activism in the form of the Hopkins Committee for Basic Freedoms played a significant role in shaping the discussion and policy of the university concerning race relations.