Samuel L. Gilmer

The former Annapolis alderman was a civil rights activist who helped found the Anne Arundel chapter of the NAACP.

November 01, 2008|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,

Samuel L. Gilmer, a former Annapolis alderman and civil rights activist who helped organize Anne Arundel County's NAACP chapter, died of lung cancer Tuesday at Anne Arundel Medical Center. He was 86.

"Like many of his generation, Samuel Gilmer was awakened to the civil rights movement in the 1940s, when he returned home after military service in World War II to find himself and other former black soldiers treated as second-class citizens in segregated states such as Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina," a 2004 Sun article said.

Mr. Gilmer said the post-World War II experience "made me get involved in the fight for freedom."

He recalled that he and others "marched to get restaurants and hotels on the highways opened, to enjoy the same things as everybody else."

Born in Winston-Salem, N.C., he moved to Baltimore as a 4-year-old with his father after his mother's death. Father and son later settled in Annapolis, where his father owned a grocery store and owned and operated a taxicab business. Mr. Gilmer drove a cab for his father and later owned and operated Sammy's Taxi Service. He was a 1940 Wiley H. Bates High School graduate and attended the old Cortez Peters Business School in Baltimore.

He served in the Army as a staff sergeant in the medical corps during World War II and was stationed in France and Germany.

After the war he attended George Washington University and was a payroll supervisor at the Navy Ship Research Development Center and was a Montgomery Ward carpet salesman.

"He was known as Sam the Man," said his wife of 18 years, Sylvia Vassell. "And while he was in the hospital, he had me get him an absentee ballot so his vote would be counted in the presidential election. He was very proud of this."

In August 1963, he helped organize bus transportation for the march at the Lincoln Memorial, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech.

In a recollection of the event, he said he worried that the march could turn violent and that he might lose his job for participating.

"I don't know if you've faced the unknown, when the battle's up ahead," he said in a Washington Post article in 2003. "But for me, at least, I started to tingle inside because I didn't know what was going to happen."

Carl O. Snowden, who served with him on the Annapolis city council, recalled Mr. Gilmer's tenacity and determination to fight racism.

"He resented that he had fought against Hitler and Nazism in Germany and came home to a segregated country," Mr. Snowden said. "He was very much a part of the civil rights movement in the state of Maryland."

He was an organizer of the Anne Arundel County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and was its president in the 1960s and 1970s.

In 2001, after representing Annapolis' 3rd Ward for nearly 20 years, he lost his seat by 98 votes in the Democratic primary.

"I think I didn't fight hard enough on this one," he told a Sun reporter after the election, adding that he knew his candidacy was doomed the weekend before the election. "I felt it when I walked around the ward," he said.

The city of Annapolis later named its Department of Transportation complex in his honor.

"He was a role model to all," said a nephew, John Gilmer, spokesman for the Anne Arundel County Police Department. "He was an all-around helpful individual. Many looked to him for guidance on a host of issues."

In his free time, Mr. Gilmer liked to travel in his motorhome and belonged to two travel organizations.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at the Mount Olive African Methodist Episcopal Church on Hicks Avenue, where he had been a member for 30 years.

In addition to his wife, survivors include two sons, Frederick A. Gilmer of New Jersey and John L. Gilmer of Annapolis; five daughters, Marita Gilmer-Coates of Annapolis, Barbara A. Lemon of Annapolis, Sannuella Nunez of Belmont, N.Y., Helen P. Wilkerson of Annapolis, Michael R. Gilmer of Baltimore; a stepson, Giftona A. Taylor of New York; four stepdaughters, Paulette Hendricks of Baltimore, Donna Fortson of West Friendship, Genesta Fadika of Annapolis and Sonia Ruddock of New Jersey; two brothers, Frederick Gilmer Jr. of Baltimore and John Gilmer of Annapolis; five sisters, Rebecca Redd of Annapolis, Ophelia Williams of Prince George's County, Muriel Blake of Odenton, Brenda Hillard of California and Khalilah (Ruth) Amin of New Jersey; 29 grandchildren; 24 great-grandchildren; and nine great-great-grandchildren. His first wife, Helen Queens, died in 1989.

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