Arundel NAACP considers moving headquarters into Masonic lodge

Official says proposal could help revitalize Annapolis' Clay Street

March 21, 2007|By Nia-Malika Henderson | Nia-Malika Henderson,sun reporter

Two of Annapolis' oldest organizations in the fight for civil rights are looking to team up in an effort to help revitalize the Clay Street neighborhood.

Wayne Jearld, president of the Anne Arundel County chapter of the NAACP, said yesterday he is in talks to move the organization's headquarters into the historic Universal Lodge No. 14 building by early fall.

"The NAACP can be a stabilizing force in the community, and the longer we are there, the more we can make a difference," Jearld said. "We appreciate the legacy of that community, and we think it's the right place to be."

Since taking office in January, Jearld has been operating the civil rights organization out of his home, as did his predecessor for the past few years. Previously, the chapter had office space in Annapolis.

Among his goals for the next two years, Jearld hopes to do more to preserve the cultural legacy of Clay Street, a bustling black community in the 1940s that declined after urban renewal efforts in the late 1960s.

The city has invested $2 million in recent years to replace building facades and increase the police presence. The Annapolis Housing Authority also plans to redevelop the aging Obery Court and College Creek Terrace complexes.

Last month, a state panel recommended placing the lodge on the National Register of Historic Places.

The black Freemasons, a group dating to 1865 in Annapolis, have used the building since 1940.

A rental arrangement with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People would not be the first of its kind for the Masons. During renovations of the Stanton Center about five years ago, the city rented space from the civic organization for recreational activities, said Mason Jeffrey C. Henderson.

Henderson said it is too early to know whether the NAACP and the Masons will reach a deal.

"There have been very positive arrangements with other organizations, and they have been worked out through the right channels," he said. "I can't necessarily assert that the NAACP would meet requirements because there's a lot associated with a group renting space."

Henderson said that Jearld has not met with the building's trustees, but that is likely the next step. Over the next few weeks, Jearld said, he will draft a proposal. A three- to five-year deal would be ideal, he said.

Funds from the NAACP's membership drive and the inaugural ball in June could support the move.

In recent years, the two-story brick building at 64 Clay St. has been in disrepair. Placement on the National Register would make it eligible for grants and low-interest loans for building improvements.

Most recently, the 37 lodge members installed doors and carpet and upgraded the electrical system.

Lodge members have included many of the most prominent African-American men in Annapolis, including the Rev. John T. Chambers Sr., a founding member of the local branch of the NAACP.

"The Masonic lodge has been there for decades, and this relationship would help not only us but the lodge to reaffirm its commitment to the community," Jearld said. "We would be a family."

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