TROY BRAILEY, hitching his way from South Carolina to Baltimore in the 1930s, probably had no idea he'd end up in wax.
Brailey, through the kindness of strangers willing to pick up a black man headed north, found his way to Baltimore and worked as a shoeshine boy, presser and waiter before moving on to greater things.
Those "greater things" are the reason the Great Blacks in Wax Museum unveiled last month its wax figure of Brailey, the legislator and civil rights activist who died in 1994.
Brailey, without a doubt, deserves to have a figure in the museum. He served in the House of Delegates and in the state Senate. He founded the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus and was a former executive of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a labor union formed by the radical black activist A. Philip Randolph.
Labor and civil rights. Those were the passions that drove Brailey. The museum had a photo display of Brailey's life that told the story more than words ever could. There was one of Brailey with Theodore McKeldin, the Republican who managed to pull off being elected governor and mayor of Baltimore.
Here was a picture of Brailey with Randolph, the one-time "most dangerous Negro in the country" (according to then-U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer). Randolph inspired the March on Washington most think was the brainchild of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Other pictures showed Brailey striking poses with the likes of Brooks Robinson, Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro III, Jackie Robinson, former President Jimmy Carter, activist Jesse Jackson, former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume.
Brailey was the state chairman for the 1963 March on Washington and a leader of a march planned in 1941, which was called off after President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order banning discrimination in federal employment.
In 1966, Brailey was elected to the House of Delegates and served until 1982, when he was elected to the state Senate.
Brailey was there fighting the good fight when it needed to be fought. Many had come to the museum to celebrate his being commemorated. Speakers, including State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, G.I. Johnson of the Baltimore NAACP chapter, former City Council member Victorine Q. Adams and a representative from Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes' office came to praise Brailey's life and accomplishments.
Ernie Grecco, president of metropolitan Baltimore's AFL-CIO, was one of the featured speakers.
"I think of Troy Brailey as a champion for workers, as a champion for labor," Grecco began. "He was our voice down there [in Annapolis] for many years. He was our guy in the House of Delegates and in the Senate."
This being an election year, Grecco couldn't resist injecting a bit of partisan politics into the affair. Brailey, Grecco insisted, would have had none of this business of Democrats voting Republican.
Oh? I wonder if Grecco would care to wager how Brailey voted and campaigned in 1966, when he was first elected to the House of Delegates. That same year, liberal Democrat Carlton R. Sickles lost the gubernatorial primary to George P. Mahoney, who was ... well, was ... OK, so nobody's sure exactly what Mahoney was. What we were sure of is that by campaigning on the anti-open housing slogan, "Your home is your castle: Protect it," Mahoney had demagogically appealed to some very racist sentiments still rampant in the good old Free State.
Enter Spiro T. Agnew, then Baltimore County's executive and, as fate would have it, the Republican gubernatorial candidate. Liberal Democrats tripped all over themselves that year voting for Agnew, who beat the bozo Mahoney in the general election.
But even the unnecessary campaigning and partisanship couldn't detract from the significance of this day: Troy Brailey finally getting his place of honor in the Great Blacks in Wax Museum. The event was held just a few weeks before the horrific firebombing that killed the Dawson family, whose home is not far from the museum. The words of Brailey, printed on a poster and taken from an April 1981 Sun article, could have prophesied what happened.
"For better or worse, we are one nation and one people," Brailey said. "We must solve our problems together, or together we shall enter an era of social disorder and disintegration the likes of which we have never witnessed."
That should be a sobering warning for us all.