Delma Gordon, 76, wrote Dunbar lyrics

October 31, 1999|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Delma Gordon, a retired social worker who wrote the words to the Paul Lawrence Dunbar High School song, died Tuesday of a pulmonary ailment at Northwest Hospital Center. She was 76 and lived on Ellamont Street.

As a member of Dunbar's first graduating class in 1940, she wrote words to the song that was sung by the students who received their diplomas at the school's original location in East Baltimore. The song is still sung at school functions.

In the days of racial segregation, Dunbar was the city's second all-black high school, attended by students who lived in East Baltimore.

"It was insane to have only one black high school in Baltimore City," Mrs. Gordon said in a 1990 Sun interview. "A lot of people couldn't afford the carfare and lunch money every day to send their kids to [Frederick] Douglass."

Born Delma Oteyl May in Baltimore, she was reared on Bond Street in East Baltimore. After her graduation from Dunbar, she attended then-Coppin State Teachers College for a year and then Virginia Union University, graduating in 1944 with a bachelor of arts degree. She returned to Dunbar as a student teacher for a year.

Mrs. Gordon was one of many black professionals who were forced to pursue a master's degree out of state because of Maryland's segregation laws. She commuted to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and received a master's degree in social work in 1948.

She joined the city's old Department of Public Welfare, then located on St. Paul Place, in 1945. She remained with the agency until 1956, then spent the next 28 years as a school social worker for the city Department of Education. She retired in 1984.

Last month, Mrs. Gordon was awarded the Dunbar Alumni Association's service plaque for writing the words to the school song.

On Aug. 6, 1949, she married Frank Stanley "Pick" Gordon, a city police officer who became a Carver Vocational High School teacher and coach. He died in 1982.

Funeral services were held yesterday at First Baptist Church, Caroline and McElderry streets, which she joined in 1931 and where she taught Sunday school and sang in the choir. In 1964, she initiated a Head Start program for neighborhood children at the church.

She is survived by a son, Steven Connally Gordon of Jonesboro, Ga.; a brother, Semuel W. May Jr. of Baltimore; two sisters, Cliffereda Connally May Tull of Mantua, N.J., and Martina May Hubbard of Tampa, Fla.; an aunt, Hattie M. Myers of Baltimore; and five grandchildren.

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