The Rev. Roland Howard Sr., 76, led Howard voting board

October 14, 2002|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

The Rev. Roland L. Howard Sr., president of the Howard County Board of Election Supervisors and founder of Banneker Christian Community Church in Columbia, died yesterday at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Baltimore a month after suffering a heart attack during a tense daylong count of absentee ballots. He was 76.

A lifelong resident of Elkridge, where he grew up in a four-room log cabin overlooking Deep Run stream, Mr. Howard was remembered yesterday as a tireless community activist and voting rights champion.

Mr. Howard traced his lineage to slaves held by George Howard, son of John Eager Howard, for whom the county is named. He often told of how his great-grandfather, William Henry Howard, lived in the family cabin after being freed in 1856 by George Howard. That cabin, on property Mr. Howard's family still owns, is said to have been a stop for Harriet Tubman while she helped blacks escape slavery on the Underground Railroad.

Mr. Howard, a retired Fort Meade civilian supply officer, lamented that young people and newer residents of Howard County tend to be unaware of its history.

"Blacks are losing their history in Howard County," he told The Sun in 1995. "I want future generations to see that blacks have made some type of contribution to this area."

The county named the long, winding, private dirt road that stretches from Mayfield Avenue to 2 acres of his family's land Homeplace Lane in 1995, in honor of the log cabin that was home to three generations of Howards.

"He was imbued with the history of African-Americans in this county and he would readily let anyone he came in contact with know," said County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray. "He was kind-hearted, considerate and had a strong sense of social justice."

Mr. Gray was reminded just how strong in April when Mr. Howard joined Elkridge residents in protesting a proposed business development on a former Superfund environmental cleanup site on the west side of Interstate 95 at Route 103. "He did a great job of advocating their case," Mr. Gray said. The residents won.

"He would go to the nth degree to try to do good," said the Rev. Lawrence E. Williams Jr., pastor of the Banneker church, which Mr. Howard founded in 1984.

In his youth, Mr. Howard attended segregated schools, graduating from the Meadowridge Colored School and the county's only black high school, in Cooksville, in the 1940s. He left Princess Anne College - now the University of Maryland Eastern Shore - in his third year to care for his widowed mother and got a job at Fort Meade setting up a supply system for the 2nd Army.

In 1957, Mr. Howard married Lilly King, a native of Montgomery County, and they raised seven children. When he was about 30, he became an African Methodist Episcopal minister and served a number of congregations in the Baltimore area for 30 years. He retired from Fort Meade in 1970 and from the ministry in the late 1980s.

His numerous civic activities included a 1999 appointment to the county election board by Gov. Parris N. Glendening. The board elected him its first black president in 2000.

Funeral plans were incomplete.

In addition to his wife of 45 years, Mr. Howard is survived by five sons, Kenneth Howard, James Howard, Claude Howard, Grafton Howard and Roland Howard Jr., and two daughters, Mary Howard-Scott and Marlene Howard, all of Elkridge; three sisters, Alice Turner and Edna Snell, both of Baltimore, and Rosetta Blackstone of Elkridge; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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