Fond memories rekindled of town that vanished 'Pointers' of the Sparrows variety having a reunion.

May 24, 1991|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Evening Sun Staff

Put a few "Pointers" in one room together and the smiles, laughter and stories start popping like flashbulbs.

There's Roberta Brown, who grew up in the segregated black section of Sparrows Point when it was a fully functioning steel town, describing the "sneaks" that young people used to hold, parties where teen-agers would dance to music in their parents' living room.

"But not my mother, no," she laughs. "She wouldn't allow it. She'd have us standing around with no music."

There's Charles Dowdy, 83, who lived and worked at the Point for 44 years, and can recite the exact street address of every house he ever lived in -- and his hourly and weekly take-home wages (72 cents an hour, $44.60 a week, when he started work there in 1927).

Tomorrow night at the Eastwind on Pulaski Highway in Essex, the ballroom will be filled with such tales, pride and fond feelings for the little town that no longer exists. The Pointers from the black section of Sparrows Point are having their first reunion since 1973, the year the last home was bulldozed to make room for growth at the Bethlehem Steel Corp. plant.

"It's hard for outside people to understand it," said Landon Godsey, 66, who was born and raised on the Point and who worked there for more than 30 years before retiring three years ago. "It was a very close-knit community."

Marlene Brown, a Pointer who helped organize tomorrow's reunion, said more than 700 people will be attending. They are coming from all over, Georgia, Texas, New Orleans, Virginia. And yes, even from the Turners Station neighborhood of Dundalk, where many residents moved when they left the Point.

Hannah M. Dawson, who lives in Turners Station, is the oldest Pointer at 97. Yesterday in her living room, Dawson smiled a lot and chuckled as Godsey, the Browns -- who are sisters-in-law -- and Dowdy recalled the good old days at the Point.

"I moved there in 1916," Dawson recalled. "It was just friendly. Whenever you went to anybody's house, you just rap on the door and say, 'I'm coming in.' "

The Pennsylvania Steel Co. bought the land at Sparrows Point in 1887 and shortly thereafter began producing pig iron from which steel was cast into railroad rails. The company town grew up around the mill.

At its height, Sparrows Point had its own police and fire departments, a jail and courthouse. There were company stores, a movie theater, bowling alley and, of course, churches and schools.

A trolley line connected the then-remote town to Baltimore.

The Pointers recalled an era when discipline was strict, luxuries and entertainments few, but the pride and feeling of community was as strong as the steel forged nearby.

"We really didn't go out of the community," recalled Roberta Brown, who said that as a child she would help her father tend his garden and help her mother can vegetables. Children would amuse themselves by playing stickball or marbles.

For many years, the only school in town for blacks was an elementary school. Those who wanted to go on to high school could not do so in Baltimore County. Instead, they had to take a competitive exam to gain a spot at a black high school in Baltimore. Eventually, through pressure on the school board, a high school was opened at the Point.

Godsey was one of the last to take the streetcar into Baltimore each day to attend Douglass High School, and he graduated in 1940.

Parents and teachers worked together to prod youngsters to get an education.

"What they stressed was, first, respect yourself and get an education," said Godsey. "My father would say why did you bring home a 99 when you could have gotten a 100?"

Many blacks from Sparrows Point went on to college to become doctors, lawyers and teachers. Their names are proudly recalled by the old Pointers.

The old houses began to be torn down in 1956 as the steel plant expanded. The last house was knocked down in 1973.

"When they sent the notices out that we had to leave, they said, 'Turn in your key,' " recalled Godsey as he smiled. "But we never had a key. No one ever locked their door. It was that kind of community."

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