Remembering 20 years of protest SECO began 20 years ago to fight the Road.

April 18, 1991|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Evening Sun Staff

Gloria K. Aull bounds onto the vacant lot in Canton, her white shirt adorned with old political buttons:

DOWN WITH EXPRESSWAYS, UP WITH PEOPLE . . . MIKULSKI, 1ST DISTRICT CITY COUNCIL . . . STOP THE ROAD . . .

Aull's buttons told the story of yesterday's gathering on Boston Street at Potomac Street in Canton. It was the 20th anniversary of the founding of the South East Community Organization, which was a direct result of massive community opposition to the Road.

The Road.

Those words were on the lips yesterday of the 75 or so people at the vacant lot in Canton.

The Road was the planned extension of Interstate 83 through Fells Point and Canton, where it would link with Interstate 95.

Widespread and bitter opposition stopped the Road about 20 years ago, but not before homes in Canton were condemned and demolished, and their residents forced to move.

Aull, 66, a self-described rabble-rouser, was one of the most vocal critics of the Road.

"We held it off so long the city finally realized what valuable property this was," she said. "Governor Schaefer and Mayor Schmoke should be kissing our butts for saving the Gold Coast for them."

The fight against the Road launched the political career of Barbara A. Mikulski, who helped start a group called SCAR (Southeast Council Against the Road). SCAR grew into SECO, and Mikulski, who won a seat on the City Council as an anti-Road candidate, eventually grew into a U.S. senator.

Mikulski, D-Md., did not attend yesterday's celebration, but other SECO leaders, past and present, did. They gathered yesterday on a lot where rowhouses once stood -- rowhouses torn down to make way for the Road.

Kate Finston, SECO's current president, described this area along the waterfront 20 years ago as old houses, old piers and old factories.

"And they figured, 'Why not put a road through here?' " she said. "That was their idea of urban renewal."

Residents joined forces against the Road with a common intensity they had not shown before, Finston said.

"They might have said, 'I live in Canton,' or 'I live here or there,' but they weren't a group of people who'd come together and say: 'For Canton, this is what we want,' " Finston said. "They didn't think you could fight City Hall.

"The Road taught them they did have a say. And once they joined together, they found out that, over the years, they had a lot to say."

SECO has helped unite and organize the residents around a multitude of issues for two decades. Yesterday, 20 paper candles were stuck into the ground, and written on each candle was an issue SECO has fought for or against:

Recycling . . . Lead Paint . . . Racial Harmony . . . Chapter 1 . . . Landfills . . . Literacy. . . Vacant Housing . . . Rate Hikes . . . Zoning . . . Coalition Building . . . the Road . . .

Dave Casey, a past president of SECO, presented certificates to four people from the earliest days: Aull, who sported the political buttons; Dolores Canoles, an early activist who, at 64, can still hit the high notes in the national anthem, as she proved yesterday in opening the program; Jack Gleason, SECO's first president; and Betty Hyatt, a past president who has been a leader in SECO from the beginning.

As Casey spoke, trucks rumbled past on Boston Street, which runs along the waterfront about where the Road would have gone.

Now, there are plans to widen Boston Street, and SECO is working to make sure noise from the trucks does not disrupt life for nearby residents.

Another truck passed. The people could hardly hear Casey.

In the brief calm that followed, Casey shook his head and said: "Some things change. Some things never change."

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