This Davenport Alum has done cool things: Kurt Schmoke ’71

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Kurt Lidell Schmoke is an American lawyer and politician. He served as the 46th mayor of Baltimore, Maryland, the first African American to be elected mayor.  He is the current president of the University of Baltimore, and former Dean of the Howard University School of Law.  Before this, he was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and he graduated from Harvard Law School in 1976. He worked in Baltimore as a lawyer, and in 1977 he was selected to be part of the White House Domestic Policy Staff during the Carter Administration to work in the Department of Transportation. However, after only one year working in President Carter’s administration, Schmoke served as the Assistant United States Attorney in Baltimore.  In 1982, he became elected as Baltimore City State’s Attorney in a landslide after an energetic, grassroots and race-neutral campaign.  In 1987, he was elected mayor of Baltimore, becoming known for his opposition to the “War on Drugs” and his stance in favor of drug decriminalization. While mayor, his achievements included improving the environment of low-income housing projects, a needle-exchange program for addicts, keeping the tax rate stable, and attracting the Ravens football team to Baltimore.  He chose not to run for reelection in 1999, and became Dean of Howard University School of Law in 2003.

His time at Yale was as note-worthy as what came after.  He played quarterback on the football team during his first year.  He worked with classmates to start a day care center on campus for the children of the university’s janitors and cafeteria workers.  Schmoke has been acknowledged as the undergraduate student leader who helped quell the possibility of riot on the Yale campus in the wake of the New Haven Black Panther trials in the spring of 1970.  As both the Secretary of the Class of 1971 and a leader of the Black Student Alliance at Yale, he was the student invited to speak in front of a bitterly divided faculty meeting to decide what to do in response to the students’ growing demands to have classes suspended. He spoke only a few sentences: “The students on this campus are confused, they’re frightened. They don’t know what to think. You are older than we are, and are more experienced. We want guidance from you, moral leadership. On behalf of my fellow students, I beg you to give it to us.” After this, the university chose to bend its rules, making classes “voluntarily optional” to the end of the term, and despite small outbreaks of violence, no campus-wide unrest resulted.

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