Vandalizing of statue of black politician treated as hate crime

Confederate flags, white hood put on Aris Allen memorial

July 06, 2000|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

A piece of duct tape lying in a flower bed at the foot of the Aris T. Allen statue was all that remained yesterday from an attack with symbols of racial hatred on the Annapolis memorial to the prominent black physician and politician.

An Annapolis police officer spotted the vandalism about 6:30 a.m. on Independence Day. A white pillowcase hood had been placed on the statue's head, and Confederate flags had been taped to its hands.

The incident is being investigated as a hate crime.

"We take this very seriously," said Officer Eric Crane, a city police spokesman.

The hood and flags, Ku Klux Klan symbols that outraged local civil rights activists who heard about the incident yesterday, were quickly removed by the police.

RESPECT, a coalition of black organizations in Anne Arundel County, will probably offer a $1,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction, said its founder, Clemon H. Wesley.

"People who do ... things like that often brag about it," Wesley said. "The reward might be what it takes to get someone to come forward."

The bronze statue, which stands in a small, meticulously landscaped garden in front of an office park near Forest Drive and Chinquapin Round Road, was not permanently damaged. It has been vandalized before, officials said.

The statue was erected through the efforts of a state committee that also oversaw the renaming of Route 665 to Aris T. Allen Boulevard.

Allen, a Republican, served in the House of Delegates and state Senate, and as running mate in the 1978 gubernatorial campaign of J. Glenn Beall Jr., he was the first black can- didate nominated for statewide office in Maryland He took his own life in 1991 after receiving a diagnosis of prostate cancer.

Carl O. Snowden, a special assistant to County Executive Janet S. Owens, said he is trying to come up with ways to prevent vandalism at the Allen memorial, one possibility being moving the statue to Annapolis City Dock or installing better lighting at the current location.

Until arrests are made in such hate-crime incidents, Snowden said, he fears that they will continue. "It emboldens others to do it," he said.

The vandalism was the latest of the sporadic, racially motivated crimes in Anne Arundel, including a death threat mailed in March to Carol S. Parham, the county school superintendent, who also is black and was involved at the time in a decision on whether to bus pupils from a mostly white South County elementary school to temporary quarters at a largely black middle school in Annapolis.

"It's very disturbing there's so much hatred in the world," said Allen's widow, Dr. Faye Allen, who worked with her husband in their medical practice.

"I made up my mind a long time ago that I will not give anyone like this the power to upset me. My husband and I went through a lot together, fighting injustice."

The 79-year-old Allen visits the park almost weekly, though a recent hospitalization has kept her away for several weeks. "I just feel close to him when I visit the park," she said.

Dr. Kenneth Hatch, a podiatrist and president of the office park condominium association that maintains the grassy area around the memorial, said he sometimes spots other visitors. "It's a well-kept park," he said. "And people do visit it."

Leonard Blackshear, president of the Annapolis-based Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation, said Allen's life is particularly inspirational.

Allen was born in Texas, the product of a broken home, and quit school at age 14. At 27, he earned his high school diploma and worked his way through Howard University and its medical school, taking part of his training in the Army.

Allen became Maryland's first black Republican Party chairman and Anne Arundel's first black school board member. President Ronald Reagan appointed him a medical adviser to the federal Health Care Financing Administration.

"There are so many youngsters who think their lives are over at 20," Blackshear said. "But here's this great man who didn't even start until he was 25. He overcame so many things. And his message of hope can touch so many people."

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