Fighting for civil rights 40 years: Baltimore Community Relations Commission celebrates an anniversary.

September 27, 1996

BY CREATING the Community Relations Commission in 1956, Baltimore set out on a path that led to enactment of local laws that helped allay the racial strife that rocked other American cities as the civil rights movement took hold.

Forty years later, as CRC celebrates its anniversary at a breakfast meeting today featuring Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., it is both heartening that the agency still serves Baltimore, yet sad that it is still needed.

CRC Director Alvin O. Gillard says the recent uproar over a court agreement to move some residents of Baltimore's housing projects to predominantly white suburbs shows the commission still has a job to do.

"I know these communities will say that race has absolutely nothing to do with it, but I'm certainly not convinced that that's true," he said. "I believe that race has almost everything to do with it."

CRC's primary focus over the years has been the settlement of discrimination complaints, most of them involving employment practices. But Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke recently asked the commission to investigate complaints of bias within the police department. Mr. Gillard says the agency's report won't be suppressed by politics. He also says CRC is going to be more aggressive in identifying other areas of concern, and will begin doing an annual assessment of race relations in Baltimore.

The need for the commission is often questioned, particularly at budget time. But the CRC gives Baltimoreans an avenue to settle discrimination complaints that is much faster than similar state and federal agencies.

Mr. Gillard says every complaint brought to CRC is assigned to an investigator within days. It is that rapid response to bias allegations that has helped keep the lid on race relations in Baltimore when things have boiled over elsewhere.

But even amid the relative calm it should not be assumed that race relations are what they should be. Mr. Gillard isn't the only one who believes that racism has contributed to the strained relations between city and suburb. That must change, for the good of the entire metropolitan area. Baltimore is fortunate to have the CRC in place to help. Its success will be gauged by how many more anniversaries it has to celebrate.

Pub Date: 9/27/96

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