Symbolic Annapolis tree moved from building site

October 18, 1994|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,Sun Staff Writer

The gnarled tree twists out of rubble in the middle of the Anne Arundel County Courthouse parking lot, the last living remnant of a black community that thrived there 30 years ago.

"This is not just an old tree, it's a symbol of that community," said Laurence Hurst, who works at the Banneker-Douglass Museum next to the courthouse lot in Annapolis.

Like the homes that were there before it, the parking lot is being demolished to make way for an expanded courthouse. But before the earthmovers break ground this weekend, county horticulturists will help perform delicate surgery to transplant the rare, twisted arbor known as a tamarisk.

The tree, which is native to Africa, was at the center of a middle-class black neighborhood along Franklin and Cathedral streets.

Lulu Hardesty, a civil rights activist and schoolteacher who lived on Franklin Street, brought the tamarisk from Africa in the early 1960s, planting it by her home as a reminder of her own roots.

Her life was a virtual road map of civil rights history. She got her first job teaching at a dilapidated one-room, all-black elementary school in the South County. Then, in 1955, a year after the Supreme Court outlawed school segregation, she became the first black to teach in a white school.

In her later years, she often said her biggest thrill was having her old students spot her on the street, rush up and give her a hug.

"To me," she once said, "we're living in a world of people, not black, not white. We're living in a world, and we've got to get to know each other."

Mrs. Hardesty died two years ago at the age of 91, but the hardy tree remains.

"That tree is a legacy of Lulu," said Rachel Brown, 81, who was one of Mrs. Hardesty's best friends for 60 years. "Her flowers and her garden were a part of her life. Whenever I see any tree, I think of Lulu."

This morning, an oversized digging machine is to scoop out the ground under the arbor's roots and to lift the arbor to place it in a truck. The tree will be replanted at Quiet Waters park on the South River.

For some, the tree provided a shady parking spot. But for others it stood in memory of a community that dispersed 30 years ago.

"It's a really beautiful tree, and it radiates something so unusual," said Mr. Hurst, 41, who studied the community and conducted interviews with the people who lived there.

The tree has "taken on a personality," Mr. Hurst said.

The 55-year-old tamarisk grows wispy, green needles year-round and coral-colored blossoms in the summer. It is the largest of only three of its kind growing in Anne Arundel County. Technically, this tamarisk is considered a shrub, but it has grown to such unusual size -- 18 feet tall -- that county horticulturists often refer to it as a tree.

Last winter, someone took a chain saw to the tree, and now its trunk and branches are held together with bolts and cables. For that reason, and its age, county officials say the move across town could prove fatal for the rare arbor.

"When you move something that's as old as this, nobody has any guarantee it's going to survive the trip," said Jerome W. Klasmeier, county director of Central Services. "It's got to take hold. But we're hopeful it will."

The tree-moving project is costing the county about $1,500. But people like Mr. Hurst say it's worth it.

"The tree was in the heart of the community," he said. "It was an individual in a community that left a long time ago."

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