A drum major for justice

March 29, 1995

Greater Baltimore came to know the Rev. Marion C. Bascom Sr. in July 1963, when he led an interracial group in two demonstrations over a period of four days that resulted in black people being admitted for the first time to Gwynn Oak Amusement Park in Woodlawn. It was a turning point in the local battle for civil rights that resulted in other barriers to equality falling.

In stepping down this past Sunday after 45 years as pastor of Douglas Memorial Community Church, Mr. Bascom was lauded for his work in provoking the community to take an interest in its poor and racial minorities. We join in praising Mr. Bascom, a native of Pensacola, Fla., for being a force for social justice and improved race relations.

As chairman of the newly activist Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance at the time of the Gwynn Oak protests, he helped bring together hundreds of nonviolent protesters -- especially priests, rabbis and ministers -- who were arrested for demanding equal rights. Such scenes had a lasting impact on this town's social conscience.

Mr. Bascom took on other efforts as well. He was long involved in improving working conditions for black fire fighters and served as the first black president of the city fire board. He was instrumental in the establishment of Associated Black Charities. And he was an eloquent speaker for religious and interracial understanding.

But Mr. Bascom was also known for tackling projects right outside his door. To rid the 1300 block of Madison Avenue, where his church is located, of boarded-up buildings and their accompanying crime and drugs, his church bought the once-handsome row houses and renovated them into 48 apartments for poor people. Likewise, his church started a summer camp in Carroll County in the 1960s to give hundreds of poor city children a much-needed romp in the woods each summer.

In the political arena, Baltimore's first elected black mayor -- Kurt Schmoke -- is a lifetime member of Douglas, where in his formative years he heard many Bascom sermons charging the congregation to become involved in local politics.

In retiring from his pulpit, Mr. Bascom, 70, said he plans to spend his days reading, writing and relaxing. However, never passing up a chance to speak out on issues of concern to him, he worried in a recent interview about the direction in which the nation is going. Given the attacks on social programs in Congress, we wouldn't be surprised to find him in the midst of a public protest even in retirement. His lifetime quest for social justice may demand it.

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