Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Scholarship Honors First African-American Graduate, Brings Baltimorean to Her Dream School

Thomas E. Morris '62
CHESTERTOWN, MD – A new scholarship created to honor the African-American student who broke the color barrier at Washington College more than 50 years ago is making it possible for a young African-American woman from Baltimore to attend the college she thought she couldn’t afford.
            The chair of the College’s Board of Visitors and Governors, Edward P. Nordberg ’82, announced the creation of the Thomas E. Morris ’62 Scholarship during Commencement on Sunday, with members of Morris’s family in attendance. Also recognized in the audience was Bethany Freeman, who will be the first recipient of the $12,500 yearly scholarship.  
            Commencement marked the 50th anniversary of Morris’s graduation from Washington College. A popular and devoted educator who taught mathematics in Baltimore’s public schools for 25 years, he died in 1995.
            “The establishment of this scholarship is truly a testament to the life of my late husband, Thomas E. Morris,” said Dr. Mellasenah Morris, a distinguished pianist and the Conservatory Dean and Deputy Director of The Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University. “It was only through a steely perseverance, tremendous initiative and work ethic, and his belief that we can all contribute mightily to the education of young people, that he was able to have such an enduring and meaningful impact on the lives of so many
“If he were here today,” she continued, “he would be gracious, extremely honored, and maybe a bit embarrassed that he was being recognized. He would certainly be proud of Miss Bethany Freeman, and would be instant friends with her family.  We wish all the best for her as she moves forward with the next level of life and education at Washington College”
Bethany Freeman '16
             Bethany Freeman knew, as soon as she started looking at colleges during her junior year at Baltimore’s Western High School, that Washington College was where she wanted to be.
            She applied for admission and was thrilled when her acceptance letter arrived in January. “Just looking at the website, and later visiting the campus – I could see myself there,” she said. “I want to be a journalist, and Washington College has a wonderful creative writing program. It has everything I want.”
            Bethany’s mother and school guidance counselor insisted she apply to four other schools, and she was accepted at all of them. But she was so confident she would be enrolling at Washington College that she attended a number of events for prospective freshmen and even bought t-shirts and a blanket emblazoned with the College logo.
            Then Bethany’s financial aid package arrived, and her mother, Beverly Freeman, realized that she wouldn’t be able to send her daughter to the college of her dreams. “It is so hard to see your teen-age daughter lose her sparkle and enthusiasm overnight,” said Mrs. Freeman, who works as a hospital discharge planner and whose struggle with breast cancer has cost her a great deal over the past few years, both physically and financially. Still, her mother encouraged Bethany to continue to work and pray. “I told her to exercise her faith,” she said.
            “I was devastated,” said Bethany. “I knew I was going to continue to work hard, but I have to admit that there were times when I wondered whether it was worth it.” She realized she was going to have to go to another college, but couldn’t wrap her mind around the idea and make a decision.
            Then, on May 1, Beverly Freeman got a phone call. Washington College President Mitchell B. Reiss had decided to create a scholarship to honor the school’s first African-American student. Bethany would be the first recipient of The Thomas E. Morris ’62 Scholarship, and the College hoped the $12,500 a year would make it possible for her to attend.
            “It was so huge, so emotional,” Mrs. Freeman said. “It was the answer to our prayers. I called my daughter and told her I was taking her to dinner. I bought flowers and she thought it was very strange, but I insisted we bring them into the restaurant and put them on the table. Then I asked her what she would say if I told her she was going to Washington College. She said, ‘Don’t play with me, Mom.’”
            Bethany said it took a while for the new reality to sink in. “I guess I didn’t believe it,” she said. “But when I finally realized what it meant, I was overjoyed. This scholarship is the most incredible honor. I am so glad I didn’t let go of my dream.”
Bethany, far left, with members of  Thomas E. Morris' family: Back row: Son-in-law
Derrick Edwards, son Thomas Jared Morris, friend Tiffany Fox-Randolph, grandson Miles
 Brandon Morris, daughter Mellasenah Indira Edwards. Middle: wife Mellasenah
 Morris, sister Eula Louise Tucker.  Front: granddaughters Lauren and Sydney Edwards.

Bethany with her parents, David and Beverly
Freeman, and grandmother Lillie Chappell.