Clarence W. Blount

April 15, 2003

WHEN CONTROVERSIAL bills drove the state Senate toward chaos, Clarence W. Blount could restore order by simply standing. He had a rare dignity, the sensibility of a poet and a preacher's facility with the Bible. And his resonant bass voice was soothing.

Senator Blount, who died Friday at 81, could always direct his colleagues toward consensus. They knew he had no personal agenda. His ambition ran to doing his job: senator, committee chairman and Democratic majority leader.

In an age of direct action against an inflexible system unwilling to grant equal rights to African-Americans, Senator Blount was criticized occasionally for choosing an insider's role. He never apologized.

"I wish I had the power of Joshua and could stay outside and talk hot rhetoric and the walls come tumbling down and I'd get all the cookies," he said. But "the pie is cut on the inside."

He knew what being outside meant. As a boy in North Carolina, he couldn't go to school; he had no shoes. When he came to Baltimore with his family in the early 1930s, he couldn't read, a more painful embarrassment because he was 10 and his 6-foot-3 height made him look older. He graduated from Frederick Douglass High School at 21.

He remembered a lifetime of teachers by name and lesson: Delmas Milbourne showed him the logic of language: "For the first time in my life I understood, and it was like the sun shining on me."

He urged education - and voting: "The reality is that we haven't sufficiently educated black people to the sacredness of their vote. If I could guarantee delivery of 25,000 votes to a gubernatorial candidate then I couldn't be denied anything," he said.

A veteran of World War II, he aspired to be a peacemaker like Ralph J. Bunche, the black diplomat and 1950 Nobel Peace Prize winner. Senator Blount pursued his diplomatic dream at Georgetown University, but illness forced a career change. He became an educator - and peacemaker in the state Senate.

Near the end of his career, a dormitory at Morgan State University was named for him. The honor was announced one day on the floor of the Senate. His colleagues had not told him of their plan.

"I had no idea," he said. "In the words of the Old Testament, I shall try to earn it anew every day of my life."

Surely he succeeded.

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