Teacher Involved In Sit-ins Gave Lesson In Civil Rights

February 20, 1991|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff writer

Marita Carroll had never been arrested before. But then, she'd nevertried to get served at the Terminal Restaurant in Annapolis.

She was a teacher by trade, having started her career in a one-room segregated school in South County. She'd grown up in Annapolis, where any day of the week one could see the black men and women standing outside the Little Tavern on West Street, waiting to get their meals handedout through a window because the dining room was off-limits to them.

She'd always been a peaceful person. But there came a time to getarrested.

"I wasn't angry," said Carroll, 69, a member of the Annapolis Housing Authority board who for years was active with the Congress of Racial Equality. "I was somewhat, a little frightened. I had never had a similar experience before."

She became part of a movement that began in February 1960, when four black college students in Greensboro, N.C., defied segregation by taking seats at a Woolworth lunch counter. The four students sat for hours without being served, then came back to sit some more. They were joined by other college students and attracted the attention of the national press. Their sit-in spawned a movement throughout the South to crack racial barriers instores and restaurants.

Just after Thanksgiving 1961, Carroll and four other Annapolis residents joined the campaign in Anne Arundel County.

The two women and three men walked into the Terminal Restaurant on West Street, now the site of the Loews Annapolis Hotel. They took seats at the counter. They asked to be served.

"The man on duty said he could not serve us," Carroll said. "We said we wouldn't leave. He called the police. They came and read us the Trespass Act. Westill refused to leave. So we were arrested."

The five -- Carroll, Dr. Samuel Callahan, Ethel Thompson, Lacey McKinney and William Johnson -- were escorted by police to the city jail, then located on Duke of Gloucester Street.

Carroll said they were not handcuffed and were not mistreated by the police. Johnson, who worked as a bail bondsman, posted bond and the five were released. They went straight to the home of Callahan, an Annapolis dentist, made some picket signs andheaded back out to a doughnut shop on West Street, owned by the sameman who managed the Terminal Restaurant.

The demonstrations went on for weeks: from the Terminal Restaurant to Henkel's steak house, where Carroll and several others sitting at a booth were sprayed with a garden hose by the owner; from Henkel's to Antoinette's, where the owner threatened demonstrators outside the restaurant with a knife.

By 1963, Carroll said, most restaurants and theaters in Annapolis had lifted racial barriers. That year, Carroll started teaching the first integrated groups of children at Eastport Elementary School, after the black school in Eastport was closed.

Many white parents responded by asking the principal to transfer their children out of Carroll's classroom. When the superintendent got wind of the transfers, heordered them stopped, Carroll said. In time, white parents "foundoutI was as qualified as the next person. They found out I was a human being."

Carroll, who graduated from Bowie State College and holds a master's degree from New York University, retired from teaching in1983, 41 years after she taught her first class in a one-room schoolfor black youngsters in Harwood.

In 1986, Annapolis Mayor Dennis Callahan named Carroll to the five-member Annapolis Housing Authorityboard of commissioners. She served during one of the darkest times in the authority's history, as Executive Director Arthur G. Strissel Jr. was convicted in November 1988 by the federal government of taking kickbacks from housing authority contractors. He resigned in March 1988.

Carroll said she feels one of her greatest accomplishments asan authority commissioner was to take part in choosing Strissel's successor, Harold S. Greene, who assumed the post in March 1989. Greenemoved to Annapolis from the directorship of the Greenburgh, N.Y., housing authority.

Carroll's term expires in July. She said she would be willing to serve another term, but "it's up to the mayor." She'dlike to stick around to see the 10 communities under the authority'sjurisdiction rid themselves of drug dealers. The authority recently won a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to improve security in those communities.

"The residents could do more," she said, "but a lot of them are reluctant to work with the staff and police because they fear retaliation."

The veteran of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s believes that "Annapolis hasn't changed too much" in the opportunities it offers to blacks. Without naming names, she said there are still many companies that "could have a larger quota of blacks employed. . . . When I walk into this large office and see this sea of white faces, that disturbs me."

That won't change, she said, "until there is some concerted effort made by all people. . . . I don't know who would be catalyst for this type of action, but something needs to be done. We know where we'vebeen, we know where we are. We need to get a better idea of where we're going."

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