Alderman Remembers Taking Stand

Annapolis High Students Told Of Civil Rights Struggle

February 19, 1991|By Dianne Williams Hayes | Dianne Williams Hayes,Staff writer

The image of a young man walking out of an Annapolis High assembly and prompting a massive school boycott is a vivid memory for Annapolis Alderman Carl Snowden. He was that student.

Snowden spoke to about 30 Annapolis students last week at the request of the school's Unity Club. Now in its second year at Annapolis, the group hopes to improve relations and understanding among all factions of the school population. With a membership list of only 35, group members hope people like the two-term Annapolis alderman will light a fire under some of their fellow students.

The group's problem is twofold: Because it has been viewed as an elitist group by other blacks, the group is small for a high school with one of the largest minority populations. And members say white students and teachers have not taken the time to learn anything about them.

Standing in an Annapolis classroom Thursday, Snowden recalledthe boycott that launched his career as a civil rights activist. He related how the flapping sound of auditorium chairs closing was heardthat day throughout the old school auditorium -- now Maryland Hall for the Performing Arts. Black students had been told that if they didn't like the country music that was playing, they should leave.

Snowden was among the first to stand, as students quietly and uniformlywalked out the door. The students' demands extended beyond music, and included a curriculum that could teach them more about their own history; black administrators and teachers; and minority students on school teams.

Their protest exacted a price. For Snowden, it meant expulsion and moving on to a private school in Annapolis.

"It was part of the sacrifice people had to make to affect change," he said. Snowden calls it "zeitgeist" -- German for "spirit of the times."

"It's something that moves a people to action when they have had enough, when their backs are against the wall and they want change," Snowden told students during his discussion on the civil rights movement. "That was the case in 1955, when a black woman who could have looked like your grandmother or mine refused to give up her (bus) seat. She had no intention of causing trouble, only to sit in the seat that wasavailable.

"Rosa Parks said 'no,' and a 26-year-old Baptist minister (Martin Luther King Jr.) said it is better to walk in dignity than to ride in shame.

"People had been fighting for civil rights long before Martin Luther King was born, before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. It began when the first Africans came to America. Some of this you may not have heard in the classroom."

Whether they had or not, students appeared interested in hearing more. As Snowden told of his grandfather dying because Anne Arundel General Hospital refused to treat a black man, Jermaine Johnson's eyes remained glued tothe speaker.

"It was a good presentation, I enjoyed it," 17-year-old Jermaine said. "I just wish that more students were here to hear it."

Delegate Aris T. Allen, who apparently committed suicide himself Feb. 8, also was to meet with the group this week, to share the experiences gathered during almost eight decades of struggling againstsocial injustice.

Perhaps emboldened by the accomplishments of such men as Snowden and Allen, students Michele Mooney and Vanessa Thomas are determined to do their part to affect change. But Unity Club members are disturbed by the small number of students in an organization they say is vital to erase stereotypes.

Improved visibility through morning announcements, fliers and after-school programs is seen as a step in the right direction for 16-year-old Vanessa, but 17-year-old Michele said she remains disheartened by the lack of interest and understanding on the part of her classmates.

"Just stop anyone in the hallway and ask them what we do," Michele said. "They won't be able to tell you, or they'll say it's a group of black kids. It's primarily black, but we encourage all groups to come. That's the only way we can begin to make a change."

Thursday's presentation was among several activities planned by the group; at 7 p.m. Saturday, the club has scheduled a talent showcase with various ethnic groups represented.

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