A black leader's charge that Annapolis Alderman Ruth C. Gray wanted to turn the old Bates High School into a "slave ship" has drawn an angry response from the Ward 4 Republican, who labeled the remark "malicious, deceptive and inflammatory."
The comment came from Jean Creek, head of the county NAACP and the Bates Foundation, which wants senior housing and a community center at the boarded-up school, during a County Council meeting on the project Monday night.
Infuriated, Gray is asking the executive boards of the Bates Foundation and the county National Association for the Advancement of Colored People if Creek's remark represents the organizations' views.
The alderman also requested that the Bates Foundation send another representative to meetings on the project, which needs City Council approval.
Gray, Creek said at the meeting, wanted to turn Bates "into a slave ship . . . so we can raise money on our slave ship."
ButGray said she had merely suggested in a brainstorming session six months ago the possibility of creating a museum in the school building commemorating black culture. Part of the museum might include a modelslave ship exhibition, she said.
In a prepared statement responding to Creek's remark, Gray said, "Whether her purpose was to sway votes or defame my character makes no difference. These tactics are not to be tolerated."
Requesting that someone other than Creek represent Bates, Gray said, "I no longer feel I can communicate with Dr. Creek in an open and honest manner."
Creek said yesterday that she had merely repeated Gray's idea.
"She needs to apologize to the community for making a statement that Bates should be a slave ship," Creek said. "What she is doing is holding the Bates Foundation responsible for something she said.
"But Bates is not about a slave ship; Bates is about a community development effort. And I'm not going to allow Mrs. Gray or anyone else to take my eyes off that goal."
At last week's meeting, the County Council approved legislation giving Annapolis lawmakers authority to ease development restrictions on land around the school. But under an amendment proposed by Councilwoman Maureen Lamb, D-Annapolis, the city must first get permission from CountyExecutive Robert R. Neall.
Environmentalists and black leaders have been arguing behind closed doors for two years over the use of environmentally sensitive land for the project.
The Bates Foundation,the county's Community Action Agency and developer Victor Frenkil are working as partners on the $10 million project.
The plan calls for 49 apartments for seniors and a community center inside the schooland up to 90 affordable town houses on
fields surrounding it, Creek said.
Gray said she supports the apartments and community center but opposes construction of 90 town houses on land within 1,000 feet of the headwaters of Spa Creek.
But, she said, Frenkil has resisted changes in the plans during six months of negotiation.
Bates was the only high school for blacks in Anne Arundel County from 1933 until 1966, when county schools were desegregated. Closed in 1981, black leaders have tried since to reopen it as senior housing and a community center.