Earl Koger, publisher and insurance broker

July 14, 1995|By DeWitt Bliss | DeWitt Bliss,Sun Staff Writer

Earl Koger Sr., a retired Baltimore insurance broker, and publisher of African-American history and children's books and outspoken local newspapers, died July 6 of heart failure at Bon Secours Hospital. He was 85.

A resident of Northwest Baltimore, Mr. Koger was the first black insurance broker in the state, according to James Crockett, a former employee.

Mr. Koger once helped Walter Cronkite prepare a program on the refusal of insurance companies to issue policies on property in black areas. He is credited with giving many African-American insurance agents their start in the business.

"I want black folks to get my message. I want them to be proud of who they are. I want them to understand that black people have been kings, inventors, business leaders, everything that white men have been, so why should we feel inferior?" he said in a 1979 interview.

He often set out his beliefs in a series of black-oriented publications -- Pocket, a weekly newsletter, and Watch Dog and Good News, both biweekly newspapers.

In addition to the papers, he published materials on black history for children, the "Negro Heroes" card game in 1959, "The Black History Coloring Book" in 1962, and "Black Mother Goose Jingles and Rhymes" in 1970.

He also researched and wrote "Jocko," a book on a young black boy who froze to death holding the horses for George Washington while the war hero crossed the Delaware. The book was published in 1963 and adapted as a children's opera in 1972.

The youngest of 10 children, Mr. Koger was born in Reidsville, N.C., where his father, a former slave, owned a grocery store and tavern. The family prized education, and a brother working at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh sent home crates of discarded books for Mr. Koger to read.

The Kogers moved to Baltimore when young Earl was 9 and he graduated from Douglass High School. At West Virginia State College, he was editor of the student newspaper and interviewed such American giants as Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, and George Washington Carver.

He left journalism to sell wallpaper and paint and later became an agent for the Mutual Benefit Society. He retired in the early 1970s as owner of Earl Koger & Sons, Inc., the brokerage he had operated for 30 years.

He served on the State Human Rights Commission, the Baltimore Criminal Justice Council, the Maryland Crime Investigating Commission, and was a delegate to the Maryland Constitutional Convention. His wife, the former Dorothy Waynsboro, died in 1988.

Services for Mr. Koger were held Wednesday.

He is survived by two daughters, Thelma Parker of Washington and Margaret Jones of Annapolis; two sons, Earl Koger Jr. of Washington and the Rev. Gordon Koger of Baltimore; 16 grandchildren; 23 great-grandchildren; and a great-great-granddaughter.

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