In a scene reminiscent of the early days of the civil rights movement, about 200 protesters sang "We Shall Overcome" yesterday as they demonstrated outside a Roland Park supermarket where an employee allegedly told a black youngster he was "too dark" to be allowed entry to the store.
The demonstration was sparked by an alleged incident that occurred in December when the youngster was denied entry to Eddie's Supermarket in the 5100 block of Roland Ave. According to the youngster, a store employee told him that he was "too dark" to be allowed into the store.
The protesters, many carrying placards and banners that read "All Shades of Black Are Beautiful," "Black is Beautiful, Too," and "Educate Eddie's," walked quietly in front of the store for more than an hour.
"This is to let the young man know that members of his church and community are behind him," said the Rev. Frank Reid, pastor at Bethel A.M.E. Church on Druid Hill Avenue. "But this also happens nationwide where African-Americans are not allowed in stores or are followed around when they are."
The alleged incident began when Jason Dortch, a sixth-grade student at nearby Roland Park Elementary/Middle School, and another black youngster went to the store after school.
Jason, who has a dark complexion, says he was denied entry to the store. But his friend, who has a lighter complexion, was allowed to enter the store with an adult, who happened by as the boys stood outside.
"I was upset and I was hurt," Jason says, adding that he phoned his parents, who came to the store within an hour.
"Needless to say, this bruised his ego," says Denise Dortch, the boy's mother.
The management at Eddie's Supermarket denies that there were any racial overtones to the alleged incident. Harold Hackerman, the store manager, says the store policy is to allow only four or five students in the store at a time either before or after school.
The store policy has been in effect for many years and is approved by the school principal, Mr. Hackerman says.
"He [Jason] complained there was something racially motivated and there wasn't," Mr. Hackerman says, adding: "That employee wouldn't say anything like that."
Mr. Reid says that, since the incident, he has talked with more than 20 parents of black former students of Roland Park Elementary/Middle School and has heard some of them complain of racism by store employees. Other students were either denied entrance or followed by store employees after they entered the store, he says.
"It's not a singular incident," Mr. Reid says. "It's tragic. I'm more concerned than I am surprised."
Mr. Hackerman says a letter was sent to the family shortly after the incident.
"We sent a letter . . . of what we thought happened and that's all we thought we needed to do," Mr. Hackerman says.