Blacks Find Decline In Racism Here

But Covert Discrimination And The Kkk Persist

February 27, 1991|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff writer

Things have changed since the 1950s, when a white woman wouldn't allow Mildred Hughes' daughter to sit next to hers on a carnival ride inWestminster.

The woman made the ride operator take Hughes' daughter off.

But Hughes stood up to the woman, who, she said, dressed herself and her daughter sloppily.

"I told her, 'I'm glad she (my daughter) got off, so she doesn't get a germ from your child,' " said Hughes, now 70 and living on Union Street in Westminster in the same neighborhood in which she grew up.

Some whites still might feel the way that woman did about black people, but laws today wouldn't allow themto force a child off a ride, keep her from attending a certain school or otherwise discriminate against her because of her color.

Whenasked about racism they have encountered, blacks in Carroll County often say they haven't had much of a problem. But before the conversation ends, they usually remember incidents they had put in the backs of their minds.

"A lot of the racism is very subtle, and as a blackperson, you just sort of overlook it, or it becomes a personal challenge to you," said Virginia Harrison, 44, of Eldersburg. The owner ofa home-based dressmaking and alteration business, Harrison serves onthe Community Relations Commission, a panel that mediates discrimination complaints.

Harrison has faced both subtle and overt racism. When she was 11, in 1958, she remembers stepping aside as a courtesy to let two white men pass her on a sidewalk in Baltimore. As he passed, one of the men said to her, "You better move," and spit on her.

"I decided right then I wasn't moving for anybody again," Harrison said.

She said she suspected more subtle discrimination when she and her husband were buying their home 14 years ago. The agent, she said, tried to steer them away from the all-white development in which they were looking.

It is a violation of federal law for agents to discuss the racial make-up of neighborhoods. Harrison said the agent stopped short of actually breaking the law but steered them toward another Eldersburg development.

"I asked her, 'Do they have this samehouse in Carroll Square?'

She said, 'No.'

"I said, 'Then why would we want to look there?' " Harrison said.

Clarence Dorm, 65, remembers when all Westminster's black families lived either on Union Street or Charles Street, where he grew up. Blacks from throughout the county attended the nearby all-black Robert Moton High School until1965, when they were integrated into neighborhood schools.

In theearly 1970s, Dorm bought a house on Green Street in Westminster. Before he moved in, he said, the woman who sold him the house was harassed by her neighbors, who called her a "nigger lover."

"It didn't scare me. I just got right in and took over my house and made it a home," Dorm said. Later, the same white neighbors praised him for the way he kept up his house.

"Some people think just because you're black, you're going to let your house run down," said Dorm, who now lives on Western Chapel Road.

Until the late 1960s, he couldn't even sit on the main floor of Carroll's movie theaters, but he said he can't remember the last time he experienced racism.

"It's been a long time, and I thank God for it," he said.

But a young Westminster woman came up against racism last year for the first time, she said.

Andrea Mack, 22, lives with her cousin, Mildred Hughes, and is a junior at Western Maryland College. Last May, she said, a Westminster High School administrator called her a "nigger."

Mack was attending a Carroll Community College class when the administrator confronted her.

"He had a problem with how I parked my car at the high school.I guess it was blocking his car. He said, 'Nigger, get it out of there,' " Mack said.

She reported the incident to the Board of Education and the Community Relations Commission, on which she serves, and consulted a lawyer, but got nowhere, as the man denied making the epithet.

Brian Lockard, assistant superintendent for instruction, said he remembers the complaint. He said he couldn't imagine the administrator using the slur, but he suggested a meeting of all parties. He said he hasn't heard anything further about the incident.

Mack said she wants to drop the matter. She plans to leave Carroll County once she has her degree in business administration.

"I'll move to Owings Mills, or somewhere where there are real people, not a bunch of old people who are set in their own ways," Mack said. She said she'd feel the same way if she were white.

*Panel hears complaints

The Community Relations Commission was formed a year ago by a coalition of human service agencies. Several counties in the state have such commissions to resolve discrimination issues.

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