Honoring soldiers in civil rights fight Annapolis residents remember struggle

August 29, 1993|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,Staff Writer

On the hot summer day of Aug. 28, 1963, with the temperature hovering around 91 degrees, the Rev. Leroy Bowman and Marita Carroll were among 250,000 people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to hear the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

Never before had Mr. Bowman or Ms. Carroll witnessed such a convergence of so many people in a single place. Black and white, young and old, Catholic and Protestant, Baptist and Jew, all had come out to call for equality, unity and racial harmony.

While the speech Dr. King delivered 30 years ago this weekend would become a turning point in the war for civil rights, many of those at the march had long been foot soldiers in their own communities.

"The march was a channel through which they could express their dissatisfaction with the status quo and also make some request of the federal government," said Ms. Carroll, 71, who rode on one of several buses from Annapolis to the March on Washington in 1963.

Other foot soldiers in Annapolis included Mr. Bowman, Ethel Mae Thompson, Lacey McKinney, William Henry "Lamb" Johnson, Dr. Samuel P. Callahan and the late Dr. Theodore H. Johnson Jr.

They, and others throughout the nation, were united by a single purpose -- to stamp out racial injustice and inequality.

Mr. Bowman faced both in 1960, when he walked through the door of the then-B&A Bus Terminal Restaurant on West Street, where Loews Annapolis Hotel now sits. The Terminal Restaurant refused him service because he was black.

"The proprietor at the time resented my presence," said Mr. Bowman, 85, pastor of First Baptist Church in Annapolis. "In fact, he threatened me, and I left rather than become involved in any violence."

That Sunday at church, the man who has spent 50 years of his life preaching told his congregation what had happened. A few members and others went to the restaurant after church and demanded service. They were ordered to leave. When they didn't, they were arrested.

Ms. Carroll, a retired schoolteacher who started her career in a one-room segregated school in South County, was among those arrested.

Although not a member of Mr. Bowman's church, she had grown up in Annapolis, where any day of the week black men and women would stand outside a restaurant on West Street called the Little Tavern, waiting for their meals to be handed to them through a window.

The tavern's dining room was for whites only.

Ms. Carroll, Mr. McKinney, Mr. Johnson, Ms. Thompson and Dr. Callahan "picketed it [the Terminal] around the clock until the policy was changed," Mr. Bowman said.

When the owner of the Terminal opened another restaurant across the street for blacks in an effort to get rid of the pickets, they stood firm.

"We told the proprietor we didn't want that. We didn't want a separate facility. We were a part of the public, and we wanted the same kind of service the public was getting." Mr. Bowman said.

The restaurant owner told Mr. Bowman that "most of his clientele was white, and he feared they would leave if he let blacks in. He said his business was not a social experiment. His business was to make money."

One week after the picketing began, it was announced that discrimination at the West Street restaurant would end.

The group's protest, which began Nov. 25, 1960, led to picketing at other Annapolis restaurants and the eventual desegregation of the city.

Sometimes, protesters were sprayed with water hoses and pesticides or threatened with knives as they strove to tear down racial barriers at restaurants, theaters, and hotels, Ms. Carroll said.

"It was very demeaning. It was a big shock to your self-esteem to be told we don't service your people here," Mr. Bowman said. "It was very demeaning, and it was very offensive."

Two weeks ago, the five protesters were honored with a plaque at Loews Annapolis Hotel, on the site where their fight for equal treatment in public accommodations began.

"We were honored, but we felt that what we did was something that had to be done," Ms. Carroll said.

"We were also happy to know that the city of Annapolis would observe the 30th anniversary of the March on Washington by recognizing those of us who had sat in at the Terminal Restaurant."

Annapolis Alderman Carl O. Snowden, one of two black elected officials in the city, said, "The five that were there and others belong in our local hall of fame. When they were sitting in, they were standing up for social justice."

L But equal treatment for blacks and whites is still an issue.

In April, six Secret Service agents in town for President Clinton's visit to the Naval Academy said they waited 45 minutes for service at an Annapolis Denny's, while white agents at another table had already received their food.

They have filed suit against the national restaurant chain.

"What's the difference?" said Bertina Nick, 46, a local community activist. "Even though they're not discriminating against you, they still don't want to serve you.

"I would never eat in there again. I don't care if it's Denny's, McDonald's or where you get your shoes shined, you don't patronize people who step on you," she said.

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