Keeper of King legacy

Rights activist Snowden heads annual event of honor

January 11, 2009|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

He was a community organizer, rallying for tenants rights in Annapolis' public housing. Later, he was elected to local office, serving on the Annapolis City Council.

And 21 years ago, Carl O. Snowden established the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee Inc., which sponsors a dinner in Anne Arundel County honoring community members in the name of the slain civil rights leader.

This year, Snowden said, the event will be particularly poignant as the inauguration of the nation's first black president - Barack Obama - will follow.

"We want to keep the legacy of Dr. King alive, and the best way is to honor those men and women who on a daily basis fight to implement his unfinished social justice agenda," Snowden said. "Ironically, the election of Barack Obama is not the fulfillment of the dream of Dr. King; it's just another step in developing the community that he envisioned. I can't tell you the number of people, black people, who never thought they would see the day of the election of a black man. It is really significant. His election signals a major shift in race relations in the country. I think Dr. King would be so proud of it."

Snowden, 55, who was named by state Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler in 2007 to lead the first Office of Civil Rights, has long been a civil rights activist in Anne Arundel County. In the late 1960s he led a student walkout from Annapolis High School to protest discrimination. He attended the University of the District of Columbia, but never graduated.

He later worked as a community organizer, enlisting a lawyer to provide free legal aid through a state government program to fight against perceived inequities in the city's public housing.

Snowden served as an Annapolis alderman representing Ward 4 and operated a civil rights consulting firm, which sued various state and local government agencies in discrimination cases.

In the 1997 Democratic primary for Annapolis mayor, he narrowly lost, but was later hired by then- county executive Janet S. Owens as her intergovernmental relations officer.

Snowden serves as chairman of the board of directors of the MLK Committee, which is one of many sponsors of the event and can be found on the Web at www.mlkmd.org. The dinner has grown in size significantly since the beginning.

The dinner, in fact, was born out of an overwhelming turnout for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast, which Snowden began 28 years ago but is now organized by a separate committee. Snowden's committee also sponsors the Fannie Lou Hamer reception each October to honor women for their contributions to the community.

"Carl, without question, is the heart and soul of not only the dinner committee, but the breakfast committee," said Alan Legum, an Annapolis attorney and member of the committee, who said he has been astounded over the years at the speakers and guests that Snowden has gotten to attend, including Julian Bond, chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Snowden said he realized there should be another venue that could accommodate more people to honor those in the county who work to further causes that King believed in.

The dinner began as a 400-person venue in Annapolis but quickly outgrew the space. Later, it was moved to Glen Burnie, where it could accommodate 1,200 people.

Both the dinner and breakfast are routinely sold out, and even with the current economic downturn, Snowden expects the same this year. As in the past, the event will feature some of the most prominent Marylanders.

State Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler will deliver the keynote address at the breakfast, which is held at Anne Arundel Community College, where Snowden helped to secure funding for a King monument on campus. Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon will be the keynote speaker at the dinner, which is held at La Fontaine Bleu restaurant in Glen Burnie.

Annapolis Alderwoman Classie Hoyle is receiving the Coretta Scott King Award at the breakfast and said she is "honored and humbled" to receive the award.

Hoyle, who said she has known Snowden since 1990, said he is "adamant" about ensuring that King is remembered.

"I think he believes in the process," Hoyle said. "He believes in what Martin Luther King has done. It's part of him. Carl, I think, is just dedicated to what Dr. King has done. He emulates what he does."

Legum, who has known Snowden since he was a young lawyer starting out in the late 1970s and Snowden was a community organizer, said each year he marvels at how Snowden puts it all together.

"The dinner starts at 6 p.m., and every year he's standing there a few minutes before, and I look up at the podium and I think, 'Carl, you've done it again.' "

mlk dinner

The 21st annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dinner honorees:

Gov. Martin O'Malley -- Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative Courageous Leadership Award

Sarah Flynn -- Dream Keepers Award

Maurice T. Bowden, Chineta Davis, Dr. Joe Freeman -- We Share the Dream Award

Alderman Samuel Shropshire -- Peacemaker Award

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