Focusing the spotlight on some unsung heroes

Five Baltimoreans honored for work in civil rights movement

September 21, 2000|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's history books are likely to note the events: the demonstrations that led to the desegregation of Gwynn Oak Amusement Park, the 27-hour sit-in to improve Dunbar High School, the protests to force the Horizon House apartment building to integrate.

The leaders will be mentioned, too: Parren J. Mitchell, Furman L. Templeton, the Rev. Vernon N. Dobson.

But what about Bob Moore? A teen-ager in July 1963, he was the first person tossed into the police wagon at Gwynn Oak. Or Lloyd Taylor? He rounded up young people needed for countless rallies, demonstrations and protests.

Today, the little-known soldiers of Baltimore's civil rights fight finally get their due. The city's Community Relations Commission plans to present Unsung Civil Rights Hero Awards to five who were near the heart of Baltimore's struggle for equal rights and equal access.

"At least I get my flowers when I'm alive," said Madeline W. Murphy, 77, the sole woman honored.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Taylor Branch, who lives in Baltimore, will be the keynote speaker at the commission's 12th annual breakfast today at the Omni Inner Harbor Hotel. He writes about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and about those whose names are less familiar.

"We recognize that, as we look back, there have been a lot of folks who have made contributions but have not been recognized," Alvin O. Gillard, head of the commission, said this week. "There were a lot of nondescript folks who served as the backbone of the movement."

Murphy was part of a group that developed strategies to elect blacks to public office. Her husband, William H. Murphy Sr., became a District Court judge. She ran unsuccessfully for City Council in the 1960s and again in 1983, when her son, William H. Murphy Jr., lost a bid for mayor.

Jim Griffin served as president of Baltimore's Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), an early civil rights group that focused on housing and education. He joined the organization in 1963 after the March on Washington.

Now 68, he recalls when he and others demanded in 1966 that Horizon House on Calvert Street and other city apartment buildings be integrated. They were jailed for violating a judge's injunction that limited their protests to Sunday afternoons.

In 1965, CORE staged a 27-hour sit-in at school board headquarters for quality education and a new Dunbar High School, his alma mater. Griffin won that battle when he served on the school board - from 1968 until 1974 - and voted for a new campus.

Still `getting crumbs'

Lloyd Taylor's title was public relations director for CORE. But he was more of a membership director. "We had to recruit a lot of people," said Taylor, 74. "I just really went out into the neighborhoods and talked to people.

"We achieved the ability to be able to go into a restaurant, go into a movie theater. We achieved a certain amount, but at the time, Dr. [Martin Luther] King was very active. He wanted to do something about economics. He felt blacks were not getting an equal share of the economic pie. They were getting crumbs still."

Before King could pursue that part of his dream, he was assassinated. "I still think about [black economic empowerment] and wish we'd do something about it," Taylor said.

Tim Conway, 59, is assistant chief of the Baltimore City Liquor Board. His involvement at Gwynn Oak served as his baptism in the movement. His brother, a CORE member, "told me they needed some bodies and I should be involved," Conway said. "When you can't go to a place you think you ought to be able to go to, it was a terrible feeling."

He is most pleased with his involvement in Operation Champ, a mobile recreation center that gave jobs to 200 people and provided recreation for thousands in the late '60s. Operation Champ blocked off streets and set up pool tables, trampolines, bowling alleys and traveling stage shows. "How many kids in our time were able to jump on a trampoline?" Conway said. "It gave the kids something to do."

`Stayed the course'

Bob Moore's civil rights work began with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, in voter registration and education drives in Georgia and Alabama. He returned to Baltimore to launch a chapter in 1968.

His arrest at Gwynn Oak cost him a job at a car wash after he missed work because he was in jail and his picture was in the paper.

Moore points to his work since the 1960s. Now 55, he is president of District 1199E, the hospital workers' union. "I think I'm proudest of having stayed the course," he said. "I think I'm still doing the same kind of work to make the society a much more fair and just society."

The list of honorees could be much longer, Dobson said.

"There are unsung heroes in any struggle," he said. "Just like you picked out those five, I can pick out 500. The movement has never recognized the thousands of people who gave it impetus."

Most honorees agree the struggle for equality in Baltimore continues.

"I think the face has changed, but not the heart," Murphy said. "You're treated with respect now where you weren't before. There was out-and-out prejudice. It's just been covered over."

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