'Toward Equality' pamphlets took the pulse of the state's race relations

Sidney Hollander Sr.'s foundation looked at progress and failure

  • Anti-segregation demonstrators carry signs in front of a restaurant on East Baltimore Street near Guilford Avenue in 1961.
Anti-segregation demonstrators carry signs in front of a restaurant… (Walter M McCardell Jr, Baltimore…)
February 05, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

When Sidney Hollander Sr., the legendary Baltimore civil rights and social activist, celebrated his 90th birthday in 1972, he reflected on his life's work seeking equality for those who had long been denied it.

"I was always warned by my conservative friends that if you give Negroes one finger, they'll want the whole hand," he told a Sun reporter at the time. "That's what I'm for. If they get the whole hand, then they'll finally be equal.

"We've broken down a lot of the taboos and restrictions, but we haven't broken down the emotions behind those taboos and restrictions," he said.

Hollander, a successful Baltimore businessman, was a "boat-rocker all of his life," his friend, Jack L. Levin, a local advertising executive and civil libertarian, wrote in a 2002 article in The Sun. Levin, like his friend, also devoted his life to the eradication of hateful prejudice.

Hollander was no limousine liberal but rather a fearless activist who lived what he believed. He thought nothing of challenging Peabody Conservatory's segregationist policies by taking black friends to concerts. He picketed Ford's Theater in 1946.

"I don't want any privilege for myself or my family that other people do not have," Hollander was fond of saying.

He played a major role in bringing contralto Marian Anderson, who was the first black person to perform at the Lyric, in 1954 after being rebuffed by its management a year previously.

He successfully persuaded nearly 40 national organizations not to hold conventions in Baltimore until hotels scrapped their racial discrimination policies.

Hollander, who was an early member of the Baltimore Urban League, used their annual year-by-year reports as inspiration for the Hollander Foundation's "Toward Equality," which issued its first report in 1946 on the state of racial relations, both progress and failure, in Maryland.

While the Urban League in its 1945 report hailed the gains by black workers in Baltimore during World War II after employment in manufacturing industries rose from 9,000 to 36,000, an increase of 300 percent, Hollander's report took a dimmer view.

"The Negro in Baltimore at the close of World War II was confronted at nearly every turn by Jim Crow. His new earning power did not bring the conveniences, opportunities and pleasures to which he was entitled," observed the report.

Entertainment was "rigidly restricted," it said.

"All of the downtown motion picture houses, along with most of the neighborhood movies, were for whites only, and Ford's, the city's principal legitimate theatre, confined colored patrons to its precipitous second balcony," it reported.

"Department stores were in such a state of indecision as to what Negroes could or could not buy that colored shoppers never knew what to expect from week to week or from one counter to the next. Always there was the risk of soul-searing experiences, such as having a floor-walker shoo colored children away from the white Santa Claus. If a Negro shopper did brave the downtown retail area, it had to be between meals, because no place in the shopping district would let a colored person sit and eat so much as a hot dog."

In those years, housing was a struggle for the city's black residents, who were confined in ghettos.

"Most of the city's 200,000 Negroes remained jam-packed in the sub-standard housing of inner-city colored ghettos, having achieved only limited residential gains despite a wartime population growth of one third or more. … Each block that 'turned colored' created a new complex of hostility and misunderstanding."

Hollander's 1946 report revealed a grim health assessment for blacks, whose deaths from tuberculosis were five times that of whites.

There were some positive notes that year, however. White runners participated for the first time in the Health Week Marathon, an annual race that was held as part of Negro Health Week.

Organizations such as Baltimore Interracial Fellowship, Friends' House and the Baltimore Institute of Musical Arts worked toward racial harmony by bringing whites and blacks together.

The Baltimore Presbytery had elected a black presiding minister, and a "new group of taxicab owners increased the number of permits granted Negroes," the report stated.

Things were looking better the next year when the Hollander Foundation reported that the first black police sergeant was promoted and Police Commissioner Hamilton R. Atkinson began assigning black police officers to "colored areas."

"Despite the successful experience of the Police Department, the Fire Department remained steadfastly all white," it noted.

Nine private vocational schools that had been supported by the Baltimore Urban League opened for students who learned radio and TV repair, tailoring, photography, barbering and hair styling, but blacks were held back by discriminatory union membership policies, and limited apprentice ratios "remained an obstacle."

A black art show was held for the first time in 1947 at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

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