Not your routine Sunday Pomp: For members at New Psalmist Baptist Church and for loyal Democrats in West Baltimore, a presidential visit made it a day to remember.

The Political Game

November 03, 1998|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

A pageant of electioneering -- of the democratic process -- unfolded in a West Baltimore neighborhood on Sunday.

Tasha S. Brown and her neighbor, Geraldine Carter, brought chairs and cushions to their shared porch to watch the president of the United States arrive and depart.

"It was like history," said Brown, 29, a supermarket cashier and mother of two daughters. "He was directly across the street from where I live.

"It was beautiful so beautiful. Oh, my goodness.

"I told my kids: 'Always remember this,' " she said. "They wanted to see him, and I told them, 'When you go to school tomorrow, you tell the teacher the president landed across the street.' "

People turned out for the pomp and logistics: the squadrons of motorcycles, the parade of limos, the well-dressed security guys, the Marine Corps helicopters and, finally, the solitary figure of Bill Clinton waving through tinted glass. Spectators stood behind an orange-mesh plastic fence erected by city public works crews during the night.

The first of three helicopters landed on Edmondson High School's football field at 11: 12 a.m. A cheer went up from the sidewalks and porches overlooking the field and from the crowd gathered outside the president's destination, New Psalmist Baptist Church several blocks away at Old Frederick and Dunland roads.

At the church, lines of churchgoers wound around the block, slowed by the fact that all had to pass through metal detectors. They were not shy about protesting the pace or the lack of seating.

"I hope you all are like this when Jesus comes," one woman yelled.

"Just get the blessing, my sister," said Herbert S. Robinson, a uniformed church security minister working with the crowd. "Don't let nobody steal your joy. Jump and shout in church. Don't jump and shout out here."

Need a bigger church

DTC "I'm going to trust in God I'm going to get in," said Edith R. King, a 20-year church member who goes to the 11: 30 a.m. service each Sunday.

"They should make the church much bigger," said Brandon M. Walker, 8, a fourth-grader at Deer Park Elementary School who was carrying his copy of the "Kids Bible" to church.

Jerome Robinson Jr., 35, came to the 9: 30 a.m. service with his daughter Bianca, 7, and son Jerome "Jay" Robinson III, 3, and stayed until after Clinton arrived.

"I had taken them to the White House, and I wanted them to see who lived there," Robinson said.

Bianca said the day was "a special Sunday" because of the president's visit. She found it "cool" that Clinton was in attendance, even if "he was in the front, and we were in the back."

Jay was more impressed by the police motorcycles. "Look," he said, pointing, "two motorcycles!"

Sandra Baptist, a deaconess at New Psalmist, got up at 3 a.m. to get herself, her family (her son's in the choir) and a couple of neighbors to the church by 6 a.m.

She and others sat through all three services. "We don't see it as a political thing," Baptist said. "We were there to worship; we don't take that lightly."

Responsibility and blessing

But she heard the political message.

"Oh, we vote. I take that as a responsibility and a blessing. You cherish it and don't take it for granted."

Clinton, carrying his Bible and wearing a sharp, double-breasted gray suit, wowed almost everyone.

During his remarks, a small group of women watched on closed-circuit television in a room off of the sanctuary.

"He knows his Scripture," one said, as Clinton quoted from Corinthians and Matthew.

"Umm-uhmm!" affirmed another.

"Watch out, Reverend Thomas," said a third, suggesting that her pastor, the Rev. Walter S. Thomas, might have some high-level competition.

Clinton made no effort to match the eloquence of Thomas -- or of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who introduced the president.

To the delight of the congregation, Clinton referred to the congressman as "Reverend Cummings." He paused to observe that Thomas's wife, Patricia, was celebrating her birthday -- as was Maryland Secretary of State John T. Willis.

Clinton no doubt missed the appeal of Joseph Queen-Bey, who sat in front of his house on Old Frederick Road with a sign demanding "reparations."

"They're long overdue for slavery and for hard times after slavery," the 47-year-old home improvement worker said. "We were never compensated. He's a great orator but he's really not doing much for black people."

Definitely a minority opinion Sunday.

Pub Date: 11/03/98

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