Apathy is struggle for NAACP

February 06, 1994|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Sun Staff Writer

Drawing its tiny but committed membership from the 2 percent of Carroll's population that is black, the county chapter of the NAACP wants to solve the problems facing black residents of the county.

But those black residents don't seem to want to take part in the struggle.

"Carroll County African-Americans have always been slow to motivate, to get into action," said the Rev. Mary D. Carter-Cross, the Carroll NAACP president.

"They are too complacent out here, knowing that there are problems and not wanting to do anything about it," she said.

Mrs. Carter-Cross said battles remain to be fought so that blacks Carroll can have equality in schools, workplaces and social settings. But she said only the group's 50 members are willing to devote the time and energy to addressing those issues.

Former members and supporters of the Carroll NAACP agree with Mrs. Carter-Cross. They say the majority of the county's 2,900 African-Americans have become complacent to the point of inactivity.

Some feel that's a natural attitude.

"I think that you find that with any organization. I don't think it is a lack of enthusiasm," said William S. Hudson Jr., a former vice president of the Carroll NAACP who is no longer active with the group.

"People are just willing to allow a few people to do the work for the majority," he said.

The NAACP's history in Carroll has been fraught with membership and organizational problems.

Lucille Black of the NAACP headquarters' national membership unit sent a membership application to Evelyn Frisby in Carroll County on May 19, 1948, according to records in the Library of Congress' Manuscript Division.

About the same time, another county resident, Marguerite Squirrel, asked the headquarters for guidance in conducting a membership drive.

The drive failed. The Carroll group enrolled 14 members but needed 50 for an NAACP charter.

In 1955, Robert Dorsey asked the NAACP for information on how to start a chapter. But the Library of Congress has no record that he was ever told about Mrs. Squirrel, who was still corresponding with the national organization. So was Betty Nokes Clarke of Union Bridge, who later served as the county chapter's secretary for about five years.

"They never seemed to have enough members to get a charter. && The most they ever had, according to our records, is 34, and that was in 1955," said Katie McDonough, a Library of Congress research librarian.

Mrs. Carter-Cross said the Carroll branch was founded by Murton P. "Jazz" Hammond Sr., the group's first president, in the late 1950s. But according to records at the NAACP's national headquarters, the branch was not officially chartered until 1981.

After that, the group managed to stay active until 1989. It was resurrected in 1990, Mrs. Carter-Cross said.

The Carroll chapter's earliest struggles probably included battling against desegregation, gaining voting rights and fighting for equal rights in other areas of society.

But records and news accounts of its achievements are so sparse that black history in the county comes largely from stories that have been passed from generation to generation.

"There was a core of about 15 or 20 people who helped open the opportunities for their children, like fighting for the opportunity to attend white schools," Mrs. Carter-Cross said of groups that came before the NAACP chapter was chartered. "But those children who attended the white schools have no desire to continue that kind of work.

"The parents and grandparents who started black activist programs saw that their work was a lost mission in the lives of their children," she said. "We have few generational families in membership who have stuck with the mission of their forefathers."

When he was an NAACP officer in the late 1980s, Mr. Hudson said, the organization studied the hiring practices of some Carroll industries and Ku Klux Klan activity. The group also was ++ involved in organizing town meetings of politicians and constituents in Westminster and Sykesville.

Lately, the chapter has focused more on situational problems, such as a parent-teacher conflict in a local high school and some police-civilian conflicts.

Mrs. Carter-Cross maintains the black community in Carroll has simply become settled. She notes that the membership fills the meeting room at Union Memorial Baptist Church only when problems arise.

"I will get calls from all over Carroll County, at least five a month, from people saying something happened and [asking] what was the NAACP going to do about it," Mrs. Carter-Cross said.

"And after they get their problem solved, they don't want to get involved. People don't want to sacrifice the time to deal with the issues," she said.

"Part of the reason we are not as strong an organization as we could be is because of the lack of participation," said the Rev. James Hinton, a Carroll NAACP officer who is pastor of Union Memorial Baptist Church in Westminster. "But part of that problem is because we are spread out all over Carroll County."

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