Religion & Jewish Life

Minority among a minority: Jewish students at black colleges

BALTIMORE (N.Y. Jewish Week) – On a recent Friday afternoon, an employee of a university here, passing through the Student Center building, noticed a student he knew sitting in a lounge and called out, “Shalom Abe.”

The school is Morgan State University, a historically black institution in the northeast corner of the city; the employee is Donald Hill-Eley, a devout Christian and Morgan State’s head football coach for a decade; the student is Abraham Mercado, a place kicker on the MSU football team.

A native of Mexico City who moved with his family to Florida when he was 9, Mercado, a junior, is one of a few hundred white students among 7,700 graduate and undergraduate students. And he is possibly the only Jewish student; no one keeps track of the students’ religious affiliations.

As a lone Jew at school populated mostly by Christians and some Muslims, Mercado is part of a small group that is a phenomenon, albeit a little-noticed one – Jews studying at historically black colleges and universities, known as HBCUs among African-Americans. The schools were formed in the United States, mostly after the Civil War, to educate the freed slaves, who were barred from most universities due to racial restrictions.