Civil rights leaders and politicians from across Maryland yesterday mourned the death of Hanley J. Norment, the state NAACP president killed this week in a car crash, calling him talented and selfless.
"Hanley will be remembered for the gregarious, optimistic and outgoing demeanor he brought to every project he undertook," NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said in a statement issued at the group's convention in Pittsburgh, where Mr. Norment was to have been a delegate. "He was an individual who went the extra mile to assure the job got done."
Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said Mr. Norment was "not only an outstanding fighter for civil rights, but he was one of the community activists working hard to bring all the regions of the state together as one community. His death is a great loss to all of Maryland."
Mr. Norment, 66, of Silver Spring was killed Thursday night when his 1988 Subaru collided with a Toyota pick-up truck driven by Andrew J. Robey of Ellicott City. Mr. Norment was taken to nearby Holy Cross Hospital and later transferred by helicopter to Washington Hospital Center, where he was pronounced dead.
Mr. Robey, 29, was traveling north at 7: 34 p.m. on Colesville Road in Silver Spring when the crash occurred at the intersection with Dale Drive, about eight blocks inside the Washington Beltway. He was treated at Holy Cross Hospital for minor injuries and released.
Montgomery County police are investigating the crash.
"It just appears to be a terrible, tragic accident," said police spokesman Derek Baliles. He said alcohol has already been ruled out as a cause.
Hanley James Norment was born in Marianna, Ark., a farming community where black children went to school only several months a year so they could help in the fields.
Despite the obstacles to becoming educated in the Jim Crow South, he earned two undergraduate degrees. He graduated with high honors in American history from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and earned another degree from the University of Washington.
He joined the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and later was president of its Montgomery County chapter.
Mr. Norment went on to earn a master's degree in international relations from the University of Michigan, and he had completed all the work on a doctorate in political science except the dissertation.
Joined the movement
But he decided to throw himself into the civil rights movement.
"I guess I felt a little guilty about being away from the things that were happening, and I wondered what I'd tell my grandchildren if I was in the library studying for a doctoral degree while such tremendous change was going on," he told one interviewer.
Mr. Norment moved to the Washington area in the early 1960s to work in the federal government, first with the U.S. Civil Service Commission and later with the Department of Transportation. He retired last September after 34 years of service.
Mr. Norment was a founder of Blacks United for Excellence in Education, a self-help group that operated a "Saturday school" for black students.
He was a longtime activist in the Montgomery County NAACP. After retiring, he worked full-time as a civil rights volunteer.
In a recent interview with The Sun, Mr. Norment expressed support for a formal government apology for slavery.
"African-Americans of my generation would welcome it as an expression of the government's recognition of the pain that was wrought by slavery and which really endures today," he said.
He was president of the Montgomery County branch from 1990 to 1992 and later was executive vice president of the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches. He became president of the state NAACP in 1994, a volunteer post.
Herbert H. Lindsey of Baltimore County will assume the presidency of the Maryland NAACP, the group announced yesterday.
Mr. Norment was "a very talented person who was selfless," said Roscoe Nix, a former Montgomery County NAACP president. "He never promoted himself. Hanley's work was for the good of the community."
Mr. Nix recalled how in the early 1980s Mr. Norment did research that persuaded the Montgomery County school system to name its headquarters for George Washington Carver because the building had originally been a black high school.
"He was an educated man, but a person who could talk to ordinary people," Mr. Nix said. "Word has spread throughout this community across racial lines, and public officials and ordinary people alike are in a state of mourning at his tragic passing."
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan hailed Mr. Norment as one of the county's "most dedicated and lasting community leaders."
Mr. Norment led the move to protest a planned speaking engagement by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on Maryland's Eastern Shore in January. The state NAACP was later chided by Mr. Mfume, who viewed the protest as an infringement of Justice Thomas' freedom of speech.
But Mr. Norment defended his stand in a February letter to The Sun, which had written editorials in support of Mr. Mfume's position: "In focusing on the rights of this powerful official, you seem to forget that we also have free-speech guarantees, even for symbolic speech," he wrote.
"Hanley was friendly but firm," said Joe Madison, an NAACP national board member. "If I had to go into tough negotiations, Hanley is the person I'd want by my side. He was just the nicest man, but when Hanley staked out a position, it was after deliberation and he never backed down, even when he had to take on Kweisi Mfume."
He is survived by his wife of 31 years, the former Christa Jackson; a daughter, Camille, of New York; and a son, Julian, of Silver Spring.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete last night.
Pub Date: 7/12/97