End of an Era

May 26, 1994

The end of the Cold War and other momentous changes on our planet have not been kind to local radicalism. A. Robert Kaufman, the utility infielder of leftist causes, is still here but the Socialist Workers Party has folded its tent in Waverly. Now comes the closing of New Era Bookstore.

New Era, located next door to White Rice Inn in the 400 block Park Avenue, was a bookstore started three decades ago by people with close ties to the U.S. Communist Party.

In addition to stocking a wide variety of Marxist literature produced in the United States, it had one of the city's best selections of books on blacks. It carried alternative newspapers, sold books printed in the Soviet Union and was the first Baltimore store to offer Chinese communist publications.

Since it was just a block away from the corner of Mulberry Street and Park Avenue, where Abe Sherman, the likable curmudgeon, had his non-political book store, many people stopped at both.

New Era had its glory days during the turbulent 1960s, when it became a repeated target of protests by people who objected to its communist sympathies.

It was picketed by the Knights of Ku Klux Klan and the Fighting American Nationalists, who carried signs, "Red Garbage Sold Here," "New Era Sells Viet Cong Propaganda" and "Press Protects Reds."

In 1967, a five-gallon canister of gasoline was thrown through its window. An unidentified passer-by smothered the flames with his raincoat. The incident, coming on the heels of repeated picketing, was enough to lead to New Era's eviction.

Suddenly, New Era's fate became a liberal cause celebre. A story about it appeared in the New York Times.

"Subversives, like the the poor, we have always with us. They can never be completely exterminated," intoned Gerald W. Johnson, the noted Baltimore journalist. "But do we have to have a police captain who cannot prevent a terrorist group from running riot through his district? Do we have to have a police commissioner who keeps such a captain on the job?"

Then-mayor Theodore R. McKeldin intervened to save New Era and the state's insurance commissioner persuaded the store's insurer to continue coverage.

Even with the demise of New Era, Baltimore radicalism is not totally dead. Recently, a group of anarchists opened up an office near Hollins Market. The struggle continues!

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