Firefighter opened way for others in department

January 12, 1994|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Staff Writer

A firefighter who blazed the way for other minorities in the Annapolis Fire Department was one of 10 community leaders honored last night at the city's sixth annual Martin Luther King Jr. awards dinner.

Lt. Clarence E. Johnson, a 21-year veteran and the first black to hold a command position in the fire department, was given the Drum Major Award for his recruitment and equal-opportunity efforts in the department.

"He has not been afraid to go before the battle," said Tony Spencer, the only other black lieutenant in the department.

Other recipients of the Drum Major Award were the Rev. Michael Braxton, pastor of Cecil Memorial United Methodist Church who was recognized for his work with youths; Eunice and Randolph Cherry, owners of D.C. Van Lines Moving and Storage Co. Inc. who were honored for their philanthropic work; Dr. Eleanor M. Harris, board president of the Community Action Agency; Claude McGowans, founder of the Committee for a Drug-Free Annapolis; and Thomas Negri, general manager of the Annapolis Loews Hotel who was recognized for his contributions to charity.

Long-time activist Bertina A. Nick received the Peacemaker Award for the 25 years she has worked to improve public housing in the city. The Peacemaker Award recognizes those who have tried to resolve conflicts through non-violent means.

Godfrey Blackstone, a local businessman, received the Morris H. Blum Humanitarian Award for his work in economic development.

Evelyn Thomas was given the Zeitgeist Award for her efforts to encourage blacks to go to college.

Although Lieutenant Johnson has clashed with fire department and city officials in the past, Annapolis Fire Chief Edward P. Sherlock Jr., who attended the dinner, congratulated the recipient.

"Through Lieutenant Johnson, we now have a cultural diversity program," Chief Sherlock said.

Currently, Eleven of the city's 95 paid firefighters are minorities.

Eight years ago, four black firefighters filed a federal suit charging discrimination in the department's hiring, promoting and testing procedures.

In settling the suit, the city promised to aggressively recruit and promote minorities.

But the city has not yet met the voluntary goal it established of increasing the percentage of black firefighters to more accurately reflect the percentage of black residents of Annapolis.

About 32 percent of the city's 32,000 residents are black.

Last year, Lieutenant Johnson filed a complaint with the Maryland Human Relations Commission and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that the department sill discriminates in hiring, promotions and training opportunities.

He also claimed that he's been subjected to racial harassment. The complaint is pending, he said.

Lieutenant Johnson said he believed the city is beginning to make strides in improving minority representation in the fire department.

When he joined the department 21 years ago, he said, the city had only one other black firefighter.

"It's a slow process," Lieutenant Johnson said.

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