Is Baltimore County still 'Wallace country'?

November 23, 1996|By GREGORY KANE

I must have been 12, maybe 13 at the time. I met my mother after she finished work -- at the Tru Blu Cleaners out in Towson -- and we walked several blocks to a corner where we waited for the No. 8 bus to take us home.

Quite unexpectedly, I got a call to nature. Hopping around from foot to foot, I did my best to hold it before I told Mom I was heading for a filling station across the street to use the restroom. I did and returned to the bus stop much relieved.

But my mother wasn't relieved. She was, in fact, quite miffed. She had that universal "annoyed Mom" look on her face.

"I wish you had told me at the cleaner's you had to use the restroom," she groused. "You're lucky they let you use the restroom. This is Wallace country."

I needed no further explanation. I understood immediately. She was referring to one George Wallace, who was then governor of Alabama and committed to the philosophy of "segregation forever." He had run in Maryland's 1964 presidential primary against President Lyndon B. Johnson and garnered some 40 percent of the vote. Wallace's more-than-respectable showing reduced Theodore McKeldin, the former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor, to a fit of public weeping.

Wallace country. That's how many blacks viewed Baltimore County: as a hotbed of white racists and segregationists. Wallace went on to run in a second Maryland presidential primary in 1968, where he again did well. He got 14 percent of the vote that year.

In 1972, while campaigning in yet a third Maryland primary, he was gunned down in Laurel. The shooting left him paralyzed and using a wheelchair, but Marylanders saw fit to give Wallace a landslide victory.

To his credit, Wallace changed his tone in later years and became a spokesman for racial moderation. (According to one biographical source, it was the second change for Wallace. He was defeated in an election early in his Alabama political career in which he was the liberal and his opponent played the race card. Wallace vowed not to be "out-n...gerd" again, the story goes.)

Surely, we would all hope, Baltimore County has changed through the years, as Wallace did. But I keep getting calls from folks telling me differently, claiming that in some ways Baltimore County is still very much "Wallace country."

A group of black police officers at a county college complains of racism on the force.

The father of a 21-year-old man calls to tell me he believes race was a factor in his son's conviction of rape and armed robbery.

A white former professor at a county community college claims his program -- the most popular at the school -- was terminated because its students were mostly black and successful.

An inmate at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown charges that justice for blacks in Baltimore County courts is an oxymoron. Citing a column in The Sun by Dan Rodricks in October 1995 about how three defendants guffawed unashamedly in front of Judge Barbara Kerr Howe as she explained their rights, the inmate said the men's mirthful reactions stemmed from their knowledge that they had no rights. At least not in Baltimore County.

In future columns, I'll be examining some of these issues to see if, indeed, the charges of white racism in Baltimore County are true and if the term "Wallace country" should still apply. But black readers should hesitate before they get too comfortable. I'm going to be evenhanded about it and examine charges of racism by blacks against whites. White readers who believe they are victims of racism also call me, like the white Gardenville man who says he and his neighbors are subjected to racial harassment routinely by black teen-agers.

Of course, there are still those blacks who swear blacks can't be racists, that to be a racist you have to have power. I reject such nonsense. Anyone reading Dan Rodricks' column yesterday describing how three to four black assailants beat one white Mike Donlan until his face took on a nearly Emmitt Till-like grotesqueness will be mystified by this definition. Especially because the beating meets the definition's criteria: Donlan's attackers did, indeed, have power. They had the power to beat their victim into unconsciousness and send him to the hospital with serious injuries. Knowing they had the power, they then used it.

Do you think, deep down, they did so knowing that the black media would neither report nor condemn their despicable actions?

Pub Date: 11/23/96

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