Scholarship Honors Former State Delegate

August 12, 2009|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,

Sojourner-Douglass College created a scholarship Tuesday for students with financial difficulties in the name of a retired Baltimore delegate who sponsored legislation in the 1970s that made the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day a state holiday in Maryland.

Kenneth L. Webster, 74, a Democrat who represented West Baltimore in the House of Delegates from 1971 to 1978, was honored Tuesday at a luncheon at the college's Edgewater campus for his years of community service.

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee Inc. made a $5,000 donation to the scholarship fund that bears Webster's name, the first installment of a 10-year commitment of $50,000, said Carl O. Snowden, chair of the Annapolis-based committee, which hosts an annual dinner and awards ceremony highlighting civil rights achievements.

"Kenny Webster spoke truth to power," Snowden said to a crowd of dozens of guests gathered to honor Webster. "His bill served to be a catalyst for this being a national holiday."

Maryland was the second state in the country - after Illinois in 1973 - to create a state holiday honoring King, eventually spurring a successful movement for a federal holiday.

"I just felt like the United States ought to recognize him," said Webster, who said he fought for three years to pass the legislation. "I was on the Ways and Means Committee. [Current U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin] was the chair. He kept telling me, 'There ain't no money. There ain't no money. We can't.' I said, 'There ain't no such thing as we can't. It's we won't.' "

Webster, a graduate of Baltimore public schools, attended then-Morgan State College and served in the Air Force. After serving as a delegate, he worked as a political consultant to many African-American candidates, including Snowden, a former Annapolis alderman. He's been married to his wife, Phoebie Webster, for 46 years.

Charles W. Simmons, president of the college and a longtime friend of Webster's from their days growing up in Baltimore, said that when the committee approached him about creating the scholarship he was "overjoyed."

The adult evening college offers bachelor's and master's degrees at five campuses across the state. The scholarship will benefit students who have completed all the requirements to graduate but need further financial aid to pay off any debts to the school in order to receive their degree, said Charlestine R. Fairley, director of the college's campus in Edgewater.

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