BALTIMORE — To help students avoid crippling college debt, former United Parcel Service executive and Morgan State University alumnus Calvin Tyler is increasing his $5 million commitment to his alma mater by $15 million to fund academic scholarships.
The expanded Calvin and Tina Tyler Endowment Scholarship Fund, created in 2002 to offer scholarships for Baltimore students, will now be used to attract students from around the country to a university eager to distinguish itself as a premier research institution, the university recently announced.
“A lot of young people in Baltimore and throughout the country are in need of help right now,” said Tyler. “Putting them further in debt through the reliance on government loans is just not the answer. Getting a college degree and graduating without debt is something that we think is very important.”
Student demographics suggest that nearly every Morgan student will, in the form of partial or full tuition scholarships, be impacted by the increased funds. Of the approximately 8,000 students currently attending the university, 90 percent receive some type of financial assistance.
“Forty-five percent qualify for Pell Grants, federal assistance to support students, at various level based on family support, and about 30 percent of that 45 percent are eligible for maximum benefits,” said Morgan State President David Wilson. “Thousands of students will be impacted for decades and decades to come.”
Wilson said he “literally dropped the phone” when the Tylers informed him that they wanted to raise their commitment to the university.
“When I was having the conversation with Calvin, and he said that he and Tina wanted to make a larger investment, I went quiet, because he doesn’t think in increments of a million dollars,” said Wilson. “We talked about the impact of COVID-19 in the community they come from and how it’s stressful under normal circumstances, and now students have to do three times more. He told me they wanted to do everything they can to ease the loan burden, so students could taste the magic of a Morgan State University education.”
“My wife and I have become keenly aware of the effect that the pandemic has had on a number of young people trying to get an education,” said Tyler. “We have the resources to help a lot of young people … through our endowed scholarship plan. It’s not so much that we’re supporting Morgan, it’s more that we are supporting Baltimore … Baltimore is our hometown, it’s where we’re from.”
Forced to drop out of Morgan in 1963 due to a lack of money to complete his own degree in business administration, Tyler became one of the first 10 black drivers for UPS in 1964. He closed out his career with the package delivery company as senior vice president of operations, retiring in 1998 and taking a seat on its board of directors. Tyler’s company stock options and board compensations make up the bulk of his benefactor’s wealth, according to Wilson.
“Calvin was a hard worker who has made his money work for him,” Wilson said. “He didn’t come up through diversity programs or human resources, though no slight on those organizations. At one point, he was literally the chief operating officer for a major corporation.”
Morgan’s emergence as a top research university
Morgan State University has a long history as one of four historically black colleges and universities in Maryland. Founded as Centenary Biblical Institute in 1867 to train young men in the ministry, it was renamed Morgan College in 1890 in honor of Rev. Lyttleton Morgan, its first trustee board chairman.
The school remained a private institution until 1939, when it was purchased by the state to provide more opportunities for black residents. In 1975, the school gained university status and expanded its offerings to include several doctoral programs.
Today, Morgan has 12 colleges, schools and institutes, with curricula that includes liberal arts, engineering, architecture and planning, social work, global journalism and communications. In 2007, by virtue of its growth among doctoral-granting institutions, Morgan was classified as “doctoral research institution” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Ten years later, the university was designated by the Maryland General Assembly as the state’s “preeminent public urban research university.”
Together with Bowie State University, Coppin State University and University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Morgan State University is an engine that drives both the state and national economies, according a United Negro College Fund report, “HBCUs Make America Strong: The Positive Economic Impact of Maryland’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” released in 2017. Maryland HBCUs, said the report, generate $1 billion in total economic impact and account for more than 9,300 jobs and $9.5 billion in lifetime earnings among its graduates.
With the Tyler endowment, the largest private donation from an alumnus in university history, and a $40 million gift in 2020 from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott, Morgan State is now reaping the benefits of a reputation that was decades in the making.
“These investments show what we’ve known all along,” Wilson said. “Morgan is a serious institution that is turning out the best talent in the country in a period of immense innovation. Philanthropists are buying into the notion that, if they want a significant return on their investment, Morgan is the first option to consider.”
“MacKenzie Scott was vetting us from afar, the Tylers were vetting us from up close because Dr. Wilson has been able to establish a great relationship with them,” said Donna Howard, Morgan State’s vice president for institutional advancement. “But both gifts show that we passed muster as they considered their giving. These two gifts show them to be deeply embedded in altruism and wanting their wealth to have a positive and transformational impact on our students, their families and our communities.”
Washington, D.C. native Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson epitomizes Black history during a month when we remember historic African-American figures and their accomplishments.
Johnson achieved greatness inside the boxing ring. He became the first African-American fighter to win a world title at both flyweight (112 pounds) and super flyweight (115 pounds). He capped an illustrious 16-year career with a record of 44 wins and 5 losses, with 28 of those wins coming via knockout.
A slick southpaw known for his elusive style and defensive prowess, Johnson often made opponents miss and he made them pay. Johnson typically pounced on mistakes made by his opponents. He earned his alias “Too Sharp” by wasting few punches and making every shot thrown count.
In 2012, he would reach the pinnacle of the boxing world when he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame as one of the greatest “little guys” to ever lace up a pair of boxing gloves.
Zenger News caught up with Johnson to discuss his ascension from amateur to pro, why he felt he was blackballed by the sport and why he didn’t feel validated until his Hall of Fame induction.
Percy Crawford interviewed Mark Johnson for Zenger News.
Zenger News: I wanted to go back to your amateur career and how you got started in boxing.
Johnson: I got into boxing… my brother was one of the top flyweights in the world – James Harris. He lost to Paul Gonzalez in the ’84 Olympic Trials, Michael Carbajal in the ’88 Olympic Trials and Eric Griffin in the ’92 Trials. Me and my brother was real tight, even though we were five years apart. That’s what got me into boxing. Coming up at the age of 14 and 15, I won the Junior Olympics twice. In the Junior Olympics, I beat Tim Austin. Both of us had won it the year before, so I beat Tim Austin the second year.At the age of 16, I won the Golden Gloves. I beat Tim Austin and Eric Griffin in ’88 to go to the Olympic Trials. I was the youngest fighter in the Olympic Trials at the age of 15 years old. Me and my brother was at the same weight class, 106 pounds. Both of us got to the semifinals; I lost to Eric Griffin. He tested positive for a banned substance, and they were supposed to reinstate me to fight the winner of my brother and Michael Carbajal. But of course, with the politics of USA Boxing, they said they wasn’t going to give us the opportunity to do it two times. My brother lost to Michael Carbajal, and Carbajal went to the ’88 Trials.
Zenger: Was it difficult to make the decision to go pro, and what made you decide to turn pro when you did?
Johnson: It was a tough decision. When I was rated No. 1 in the world, USA Boxing never called me for the Goodwill Games, never called me for the World Games. … They never called me for nothing. So, I felt like I was being blackballed. As the No.1 guy, they never called me for nothing. I turned pro, and my first fight I beat a guy that I had beat in the amateurs. My second fight, I lost to Richie Wenton from Belfast, Ireland. And Wenton went on to fight Marco Antonio Barrera. But yeah, I lost my second professional fight to Wenton.
Zenger: As a top amateur, to lose your second fight as a pro is unheard of, even though Wenton was a 5-0 fighter at the time. How did you overcome that and become a Hall of Fame fighter?
Johnson: I knew that just getting the right fights at the right time and just building the confidence back up – which is what we have to do with a lot of young fighters now – I knew that would get me right back. Once I got to 10-11 wins in a row, that’s when I was ready to go to the L.A. Forum. My first fight at the L.A. Forum, they didn’t even pay me. I paid my own way to the L.A. Forum. I paid for my own hotel. They didn’t even pay me for the fight. So, I knew that getting on the West Coast was the best thing for me. Also, when I came right back to L.A. for the second fight, I knew they would try to get me beat. I fought the No. 2 contender, Raton Jimenez. He had just lost to Muangchai Kittikasem for the WBC title. And I never went past six rounds. And they thought they were throwing me to the wolves; however, they were throwing him to the wolves. They didn’t know how good I was. I knew if I could just go 12 rounds, then I would be one of the top guys in the weight class.
Zenger: The highlight reels now suggest that you were this elusive defensive wizard – and you were that – but I feel you were so much more than that.
Johnson: I think I was a boxer-puncher. I feel like I could pretty much do everything in the ring. That’s why Cameron Dunkin, when he managed Danny Romero, I was Danny Romero’s No. 1 contender. He made Danny Romero give the belt up. I was Johnny Tapia’s No. 1 contender; he gave the belt up. I was No. 2 in the world in ’93 and didn’t get a title shot till ’96. So, that’s the politics of boxing when it came to Mark Johnson.
Zenger: You are the first African-American flyweight and super flyweight champion in the history of the sport. Did you know that when you were accomplishing those things or was it something you learned after the fact?
Johnson: I knew because I used to spar with Louis “Heidi” Curtis. He fought for the IBF title like two or three times. “Heidi” Curtis had fought Dave McAuley for the IBF title on the same show that I lost to Richie Wenton, so I started doing my homework right then and there. And I said, “You know what, this is what I wanna do!”
Zenger: Why do you think there is a shortage of African-American fighters in those lower divisions that you competed in? Do you think it’s just our bone structure and density or something else?
Johnson: I think our bone structure is different. I think now, we have a lot of great fighters in those lower weight classes, 122 on up. I think they have a lot of great young African-American fighters now. I tell all of ’em, as long as you can box and move, you got a great chance. If you can’t box and move, it’s going to be very difficult.
Zenger: What does it mean to you to have those landmarks of being the first African-American champion in those weight classes?
Johnson: Well, you know, to me, I don’t understand it and I don’t feel it because I’m from a city that don’t respect you for nothing. So, I think once things start to move forward, probably next year when I’m getting stuff into the African American Smithsonian Museum, then people will understand. But right now, with the pandemic going on, everything is messed up. I don’t want to be that guy, that unsung hero where everyone praises me when I’m gone. Praise me now. Not only have I accomplished the things that you mentioned, but I’m also the youngest fighter to go into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. These are accolades that fighters would die to have, and we have had fighters that lost their lives in the ring trying to get ’em. So, I’m very proud of the accomplishments that I have, but like I said, once again, coming from certain towns, certain cities, they don’t respect you for nothing.
Zenger: That’s crazy considering that the DMV is a boxing town. It’s crazy you don’t get the respect you deserve.
Johnson: I mean you gotta understand one thing, you had Sharmba Mitchell, William Joppy, Keith Holmes, [DeMarcus] “Chop Chop” Corley and Mark Johnson, all had world championships at the same time, as small as this city is. Even though Holmes and Joppy were promoted by Don [King], even with “Chop Chop” and Sharmba being promoted by Don, those fights should’ve happened.
Zenger: When you look at Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson’s career, would you say, underrated, underappreciated or do you feel like your time in the light just hasn’t arrived yet to get the credit you deserve?
Johnson: I say underrated, underappreciated. If I would’ve fought Michael Carbajal, if I would’ve fought [Humberto] ‘Chiquita’ Gonzalez when I told ‘Chiquita’ that if he won his fight, we would meet at 110, that I would beat him and I would give him his belts back. And he said he would fight me and that night, he lost to Saman Sorjaturong at the Forum. When Danny Romero and Johnny Tapia fought, I was there. I had a sign in the audience that said, “Can I Play? Can I Get Next?” They made me take the sign down. So, everything that they did to African- American smaller fighters – HBO and Showtime – they didn’t do to Latino fighters and fighters that came from overseas because they knew that African-Americans – we want to get paid for the work that we do. A lot of those guys were just taking pennies on the dollar. At that point in time, I would’ve took pennies on the dollar to get the right fights. I think if I would’ve gotten the right fights, then of course, Mark Johnson would be a household name. I know for a fact I would’ve beat Carbajal. I would’ve beaten all them guys. I tried to fight Scotty Olson. The list goes on and on of the guys that turned me down.
Zenger: How frustrating was that for you?
Johnson: I was very frustrated. It got to the point where I didn’t even want to box anymore. It got to the point where I said I was done with boxing. And just like every other frustrated athlete, sometimes people pick up drugs, sometimes people pick up guns; sometimes people pick up other things. Just so happened that I picked up the bottle. I was able to put the bottle down and get back and win another world title. But I was very frustrated because I knew those guys couldn’t beat me. Floyd Mayweather was No. 1 pound-for-pound, Mark Johnson was No. 2 pound-for-pound and Prince [Naseem] Hamed was No. 3, I was even willing to go up to 126 to fight Hamed. I wanted that fight. I was like, “I’ll fight him.” I went up so far, I wanted to fight Junior Jones. I was calling people out. Before Robert Guerrero and all those guys fought Mayweather, I was calling Robert Guerrero out when he beat a guy from D.C. named Eric Aiken. I was just to the point where I was so frustrated, I was calling everybody out. I was even sending out emails saying I would fight Roy Jones (laughing). I was very frustrated, and that kind of took a toll on me in the boxing ring.
Zenger: What did that induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame mean to you?
Johnson: Ah man, that’s a feeling that you can never feel again. You’re on a high of a roller-coaster. You’re looking at the big boys. You’re right there with Sugar Ray Leonard who was there, Terry Norris, Roy Jones, all those guys was there. I was finally like, “These guys really do know me.” Even though Roy was on my ’88 Olympic Trials Team, Ray Mercer was on my ’88 Olympic Trials Team, Kevin Kelley was on my ’88 Olympic Trials Team. I think ’88 may have had more medals than anybody. Kennedy McKinney was on that team. Just to see those guys right there congratulating me … I finally felt like I was the President that day. You get on the plane and they wish you in and everybody standing outside with their cameras and they got the rail, I said, “This is how this feels?” I felt very good, man. It was just so great.
Zenger: You were so special in the ring, it’s sad it took that day to make you feel like you belonged.
Johnson: I look at it like, at the end of the day, when you’re dealing with so many different things, and dealing with your career, and you’re trying to work on different things that you’re trying to work on. And you look at these guys who you know that you really can beat, and you see these guys on HBO and Showtime, and you’re saying, “Just give me that opportunity and that chance,” and that opportunity and that chance came when Mark Johnson was not the real Mark Johnson. When I got in there with Rafael Marquez and those guys, I was just Mark Johnson, there was no more “Too Sharp.”
That’s one thing that I can say about Floyd. With the money he had, he was able to go out on his shield with no losses. And that’s the money that he raised because of what he done. A lot of guys like me and other world champions, we’re still not making the money that we should have made. So once again, we need that next fight. We gotta fill that hunger and we miss that spotlight. I think the main thing for me is, I work with a lot of fighters from the DMV. I train fighters, I’m back in the gym. I do my personal training, so I think a lot of that is what keeps me intact. But every world champion, and I don’t care if they say they don’t, if they say they don’t, they are telling a story. Every time you see a good fight come on, you jump up and you say, “I can do this.” Every time you see a good fight, you jump up and you start shadowboxing. I know I jump up and start shadowboxing. It’s like, who can I call and get on one of these Mike Tyson exhibitions (laughing).
ST. AUGUSTINE—During the 1950s, a single house was built at 924 E. 9th St. in the city of Bogalusa, La.
This unremarkable single-story, 1,590-square-foot mill town structure was similar to the ranch houses and bungalows built to house workers of the Great Southern Lumber Co. However, its modesty belies its social, cultural and political significance as the hub of the city’s civil rights movement in the 1960s.
It was here, on Feb. 21, 1965, that activists Robert “Bob” Hicks, Bert Wyre, Fletcher Anderson and Charles Sims founded the Bogalusa chapter of the Deacons for Defense and Justice.
The Deacons: An Ironic Forgotten Footnote in History?
In his book, “The Deacons for Defense: Armed Self-Defense and the Civil Rights Movement,” historian Lance Hill wrote, “Much of the history of the civil rights era rests on the myth of non-violence: the notion that the civil rights movement achieved its goals through non-violent direct action. [On the contrary], black violence and civil disorder played an indispensable role in forcing the federal government to enforce the newly enacted civil rights laws.”
The Deacons for Defense and Justice, an armed African-American self-defense group founded in 1964 by Earnest “Chilly Willy” Thomas and Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick in Jonesboro, La, included World War II and Korean War veterans working to protect members of the Congress of Racial Equality, or CORE, from Ku Klux Klan violence. CORE and other organizations that promoted nonviolence supported armed self-defense, arguing that the changing federal laws were doing little to protect activists at the local level.
“In the southern freedom struggle, armed self-defense became a pragmatic necessity because of the daily threats and the violence that activists faced,” said Simon Wendt, associate professor of American Studies at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. “As one CORE activist once said in 1965 — and I’m paraphrasing here — protected nonviolent protest tended to be more popular than unprotected nonviolent protest. As in the case of nonviolence, many activists viewed self-defense as something that the violent situation simply required, not necessarily an ideological choice.”
Pragmatism and ideology intersected on a national level during James Meredith’s one-man March Against Fear from Memphis, Tenn., to Jackson, Miss., on June 6, 1966. Wounded by a sniper’s bullet and unable to complete the march, Meredith reluctantly agreed to allow the NAACP, CORE, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Urban League, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) — headed by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. — to take up his cause.
After much deliberation and at the urging of SNCC’s Stokely Carmichael, all but two of the groups agreed to deploy a contingent of Deacons from Chicago, Louisiana and Mississippi to protect the route to Jackson, including King’s SCLC.
“King initially disagreed with including the Deacons in the march, but was ultimately convinced to allow their participation if the march maintained the banner on nonviolence,” said Akinyele Umoja, professor of African American studies at Georgia State University.
Fearing a blow to their identities as proponents of nonviolence, the Urban League and NAACP opted not to participate.
“The Deacons’ inclusion in a march sponsored by national civil rights movement organizations represented an important shift in the black freedom struggle,” said Umoja, author of “We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement.” “SNCC, CORE and SCLC, as well as their national leadership, were relying upon organized black militants, not the federal government, to defend their organizations and the participants in this campaign.”
Although the march continued without incident, these organizations gave little public credit to the Deacons.
“For CORE and others, nonviolence had to be the face of the movement for federal support, for northern support, for president of the United States support,” said Umoja. “Black men with guns was not the best way to get support.”
Although the public face of the movement was of nonviolence, the Deacons boasted 20 chapters across Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama in its heyday. Yet, with the emergence of the Black Power movement and an increasing number of Black elected officials across the South, the Deacons were all but obsolete by 1968.
Bogalusa is remembered as the apex of the Deacons’ power.
The Movement in Bogalusa
On Feb. 1, 1965, Robert “Bob” Hicks, a local mill worker and activist, and his family were having dinner with two white CORE workers who were in town to protest segregated public accommodations in Bogalusa.
Their meal was interrupted by a visit from Bogalusa Police Chief Claxton Knight, who told Hicks that a mob of 200 was threatening to murder him and his family and burn his house to the ground if the activists did not leave. Undaunted and expecting no help from the police, Hicks called in a mob of his own. Within minutes, the Black men of Bogalusa — armed with shotguns — filed into the Hicks home.
“The police watched my father’s friends and neighbors arrive and take positions in the yard, and on the roof, and around the house,” said Barbara Hicks Collins, Hicks’ daughter, now 73. “After learning that black men in Jonesboro had done something similar, my father got those friends and neighbors together and formed the Bogalusa chapter of the Deacons for Defense and Justice.”
Likely alerted by the police, the white mob never showed up.
Soon after, Hicks and his fellow Bogalusa Deacons set up shop in his home, converting it into a radio communications and command center, meeting place and medical triage station.
The Bogalusa Deacons, led by Hicks, gained national notoriety due to the events of May 19, 1965, when they led a group of Black citizens to the whites-only Cassidy Park, the largest public park in the city. The black citizens were soon set upon by a white mob who, along with local police, attacked them with clubs and leather belts.
The Cassidy Park incident did yield positive results. Four days later, Bogalusa Mayor Jesse Cutrer signed a six-point desegregation agreement and, on July 10, Hicks v Knight resulted in an injunction ordering law enforcement to protect protesters from “physical assaults and beatings” and to cease “preventing or discouraging the exercise of their rights to picket, assemble peaceably and advocate equal rights” for African Americans.
The Past as Prologue
Hicks died of cancer on April 10, 2010. Four months later, 924 E. 9th St. became 924 Robert “Bob” Hicks St.
In the front yard sits the first official Louisiana Historical Land Marker for an African American in his honor. The Robert “Bob” Hicks House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its role in Bogalusa’s civil rights movement and is the first African-American historical site in Washington Parish to gain this recognition.
Now, Barbara Hicks Collins, who runs a foundation in her father’s name, is converting the home into Bogalusa/Washington Parish’s first civil rights museum and multicultural center.
“We are projecting completion of the construction phase within the next four to six months,” said Hicks Collins, a retired New Orleans public health official. “We don’t have a projected opening date, but it should be some time in the next year, if we all survive COVID-19.”
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