Reprint offers look at city's movement `Toward Equality'

Historical society reissues chronology of segregation

December 15, 2003|By Antero Pietila | Antero Pietila,SUN STAFF

Clarence Logan is fed up.

As a 1960s Morgan State College student leader, he was in the thick of countless desegregation battles around Maryland, but when he reads today's accounts of those times, the retired federal official says he sees many factual errors and wrong interpretations.

"People need a good road map to finding and understanding things," Logan said.

When Baltimore civil rights veterans gathered for a reunion three years ago, Logan button-holed Sidney Hollander Jr., a lifelong social activist. "Today's young people don't know how it happened or who did it and what the progress was," Hollander remembers Logan complaining.

As a result of that conversation, Hollander contacted the Maryland Historical Society, which has reissued Toward Equality, a year-by-year chronology of how legal segregation was dismantled in Baltimore between 1946 and 1962. The reports were originally published by the Sidney Hollander Foundation, a social action group named after his father, which was disbanded 41 years ago.

"The Negro in Baltimore at the close of World War II was confronted at nearly every turn by Jim Crow," the opening chapter said. Neighborhoods were segregated, downtown hotels and restaurants refused to admit African-Americans. And while a handful of black officers served in the Police Department, the city refused to hire blacks who had passed the firefighters' examination.

Written by Edgar L. Jones, a former Sun editorial writer, Toward Equality details how the legally sanctioned color line was broken over the next 15 years. It examines now-forgotten court cases and lists important turning points.

Chester Wickwire, 90, retired Johns Hopkins University chaplain, welcomed the republication of Toward Equality.

"Many people don't really know anything about those times and events," he said.

From today's vantage point, some early changes seem laughably modest, such as the unprecedented participation of white runners in a marathon during the 1946 Negro Health Week, and a year later, the Negro Art Show at the Baltimore Museum of Art. At the time, though, these breakthroughs were significant enough to merit acknowledgement in the book.

By the early 1950s, a fierce tug of war was going on throughout Maryland over segregation. Nearly all facets of life -- from universities and public facilities to churches -- were touched by demands for change.

There was resistance.

When court action forced Baltimore City to open its Fort Smallwood bathing beach to blacks, it did not immediately result in integration but racial apportionment. "During the first two-thirds of each summer, the municipal beach was reserved for white bathers; during the last third, for colored," the book explained.

The city tried to handle pressure to desegregate municipal golf courses in a similar manner. Instead of allowing golfers of different races to use all public courses whenever they chose, the Board of Recreation and Parks insisted on separate days for blacks and whites. That practice ended in 1951, but segregation persisted in many other city facilities, including Lexington Market where "white" and "colored" signs were removed in 1957.

Although the original Toward Equality was circulated nationwide, it had been largely forgotten over the years.

"I didn't even know it existed," said Barbara Mills, a 1960s activist in the Congress of Racial Equality. She found a rare copy in the Enoch Pratt Free Library and used it in researching her book, Got My Mind Set on Freedom, an account of Maryland civil rights activism that was published this year.

Edward Orser, author of Blockbusting in Baltimore, said he, too, was unaware of the reports.

"They are important because they are authentic accounts," said the historian, who teaches at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Hollander, 89, hopes that the republished Toward Equality will become a widely used reference tool. His family has donated hundreds of copies to libraries and nonprofit organizations.

This is how it should be, Clarence Logan said. "I find that book to be accurate. It's something young people should read."

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