A man of power, grace

Pioneer: At former Sen. Clarence W. Blount's funeral, loved ones recall a diligent worker and gentle leader.

April 20, 2003|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Clarence W. Blount was eulogized yesterday by friends and family members as a man who wielded incredible power with a gentle hand, as an educator and later as one of Maryland's most influential legislators.

Packing the pews of Grace Presbyterian Church, hundreds mourned the passing of Blount, the son of a North Carolina sharecropper who made history as the first African-American majority leader of the state Senate.

The mourners ranged from some of the most powerful members of the state's political establishment to grade-school pals. All recalled a man who won the admiration of friends and political rivals with his generous heart.

FOR THE RECORD - A caption with a photo on page 3B of Sunday's Sun incorrectly identified Roberta March, who was assisting Gordine Blount, widow of Clarence W. Blount. The Sun regrets the error.

"Clarence Blount loved people of all classes," said the Rev. Arthur St. A. Reynolds, pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church. "Clarence Blount never took anything for granted. ... Clarence Blount was not only a powerful man with a purpose, he was a powerful man with a promise. He loved his family. He loved young people."

Blount died April 12 of complications from a stroke. He was 81. After the service, he was laid to rest in Woodlawn Cemetery.

One of those who eulogized Blount yesterday was Sara Taylor, who recalled meeting him in 1937.

They were both attending summer school and became close friends. "He was like a brother to me," Taylor said.

Bishop Douglas Miles remembered growing up without a father and how Blount's advice helped shape his upbringing. "Senator Blount became the father I never knew," he said.

When Miles had a choice between attending Morgan State University or the Johns Hopkins University, Blount pushed him to attend Hopkins, which had few African-American students at the time.

Blount told Miles that, by going to Hopkins, he would be "opening doors for others to follow," Miles said. He followed Blount's advice and eventually became an influential minister. He is past president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance.

Blount opened many doors himself.

He was born April 20, 1921, in North Carolina, one of four children. As a child, he helped his father work on a tobacco plantation. Blount's mother died when he was a youngster, and he moved to Baltimore during the Great Depression, growing up in the 400 block of N. Carey St.

He could not read or write when he arrived in Baltimore and credited teachers with helping him catch up with the other students.

Yesterday, his niece, Angela K. Owens, read several condolence letters the family has received. The most poignant came from Blount's third-grade teacher, Blanche R. Powell, who recalled a studious 11-year-old who arrived in her class in 1933.

The young Blount would ask for extra assignments and books, and earnestly delved into his studies. He was never afraid to stay after class to improve, she said.

"He was a bright and serious youngster," said Powell. "He was the type of student who made me want to come to school every day."

After graduating from Douglass High School at age 21, Blount entered what was then Morgan State College. But he was quickly drafted to fight in World War II, seeing action in Italy as a member of the 92nd Infantry in the all-black Buffalo Division. He earned a battlefield commission for removing mines from a river passage.

After the war, Blount returned to Morgan and graduated in 1950. Later, he earned a master's degree in education from Hopkins.

An educator and principal at Dunbar High School, he entered politics in the early 1970s to improve the lot of city schoolchildren. He served in the state Senate for 31 years, becoming its first African-American majority leader in 1983.

In 1987, he became the first black chairman of a Senate committee -- the Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee.

His even temper and demeanor, as well as his stature as an educator and veteran, led his fellow legislators to dub him "the conscience of the Senate."

Blount was instrumental in the state takeover of the Baltimore school system in 1997, delivering a crucial speech before a vote on behalf of legislation that put millions of dollars into the school system in return for management reforms and a state role in running the system.

The bill passed.

Blount loved his work in the Senate, calling it the greatest honor of his life. He decided not to seek re-election last year.

Though impressive, Blount's legacy will stretch far beyond his accomplishments as a senator, several friends and colleagues said yesterday.

"It's about the young people," said Chief Judge Robert M. Bell of the state's Court of Appeals. "He's touched us, and we've touched them. As they touch others, it will perpetuate his impact. ... He will never die."

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