More than a week after their leader received an envelope in the mail filled with a powdery substance, officials with the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP stood out in the heat yesterday to send a message to the city that the act has made the organization, and its supporters, stronger.
"The fight for freedom is still here," branch President Marvin "Doc" Cheatham told supporters and elected leaders at a rally in front of the organization's headquarters on West 26th Street. "It's going to take all of us to turn the city around."
The event was organized in response to a letter mailed to the headquarters that Cheatham opened July 21. Law enforcement officials determined the substance inside was harmless boric acid, but the FBI is investigating the mailing as a possible hate crime because the letter apparently contained racist sentiments.
Cheatham said the investigation is continuing. The mailing, many said, was a reminder of the anthrax scare that gripped the nation after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
"We shall, in fact, not be moved," said the Rev. C.D. Witherspoon, who helped to organize the rally. "If you continue to do this type of thing, it will not do anything except bring us together."
Dozens of people attending the rally heard a parade of local religious leaders and political candidates offer their support for the NAACP, and for Cheatham specifically.
"We are not afraid," said the Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III, chief operating officer of the national NAACP, who called the mailing an act of terrorism. "Violence cannot dissuade us from our mission and our goals."
Rivers pointed to local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People across the country that have received threatening packages in past decades. A bomb was mailed to the local headquarters in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1989. That year, a tear gas bomb was mailed to the group's Atlanta office. Both cases were widely reported at the time.
State Sen. Verna L. Jones and Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, Baltimore Democrats, said they would support changing state law to more aggressively punish such crimes. The rally also drew Democratic Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks of Baltimore, Andrey Bundley, who challenged Martin O'Malley in the 2003 mayoral Democratic primary, and U.S. Senate candidate Allan J. Lichtman.
"We need to make noise," Jones said. "It's not about an individual. It's about a history and a legacy."