Rally seeks to resurrect rights group NAACP officials, residents plan to set up chapter

'Don't trust the system'

Several at meeting said they have been victims of racism

March 12, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

African-American leaders are touting a revival of the Carroll County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

At a meeting in Westminster on Tuesday, religious leaders cited the indifference of government and a lack of economic opportunity as reasons for reviving the chapter. The civil rights organization closed its county office about four years ago.

"Somehow we allowed the NAACP charter to slip through our fingers and become inactive," said the Rev. James E. Hinton, pastor of Union Memorial Baptist Church in Westminster. "We need to re-establish it and redefine the direction we want to take."

A rally to launch the effort drew about 35 residents, NAACP state officials and several African-American pastors to Union Memorial.

"I think people were not motivated before to stand up for their rights," said the Rev. Brian Jackson of St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Sykesville. "It was probably part of the mind set of living in this community as an African-American."

But, the timing is perfect now for the NAACP's voter registration and education programs, Jackson said.

The organization also helps victims of racism file grievances.

"Carroll County needs its own chapter, a place that will offer them a level of comfort, a place they can trust," said Virginia Harrison, founder of Carroll Citizens for Racial Equality, which promotes diversity. "Sometimes people just won't complain, because they don't trust the system."

County leaders are indifferent to civil rights, said many of those attending the rally.

Several claimed to have been victims of racism, including an experienced teacher who reported repeated denials of employment in county schools and a father whose daughter was subjected to racial slurs and threats at a county high school.

"Don't you think that because Commissioner [Richard] Yates says there is no racism in Carroll County that he is right," said Thelma Smith of Eldersburg. "Racism is alive and well in this county."

Smith said she is considering a run for one of the three contested school board seats in November.

Carl Smith of Eldersburg, who is not related to Thelma Smith, said he was dissatisfied with the mild discipline -- one Saturday school session -- given to the student who insulted his daughter.

Taking action

NTC "This incident happened in the hallway, where other students heard it," he said. "What kind of signal do you send that you won't tolerate it?"

Dr. John L. Wright, who was president of the state NAACP from 1986 to 1996, urged Smith to air his concerns at the next school board meeting.

"You have to take action," Wright said. "Just show up. If they can't do the job, replace them. Carroll County does not want to be embarrassed by racism."

Initiative rejected

The Rev. Robert Walker, pastor of Union Street United Methodist Church, came to Westminster last year, shortly after two of the three commissioners rejected a Call to Community, a statewide initiative designed to counteract racism. Walker organized a petition drive and worked closely with the eight county mayors who supported the effort.

"There are too many racial incidents swept under the table here," Walker said. "The NAACP is a voice in the black community and for the black community. It is the one organization that can unite the whole community."

Wright said he has addressed civil rights issues in communities across the state and listened to the same complaints.

"I find our plight is universal, everywhere we go," Wright said. "So, our agenda should be universal. We have not arrived yet. But, we have to take some blame. We have not because we have asked not."

Wright urged the crowd to use the political system to its advantage.

"The commissioners and the legislators are making decisions for you," Wright said. "We need to meet with the commissioners, the board of education and the chief of police. If they don't come to us, we go to them."

Charlotte Brown of Westminster said she was impressed with the rhetoric, but called for action.

"My whole name is action," Wright answered. "I am drowning in meetings. The solution is not in this meeting. It is outside."

Hinton promised another rally, one that would focus on strategies.

Pub Date: 3/12/98

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