Union members rally to save Read's drugstore building

Local leader says chapter's history is bound up with civil rights struggle

March 03, 2011

About 60 members from two local chapters of the Service Employees International Union held a rally Thursday afternoon at Howard and Lexington streets to support efforts to save the old Read's drugstore building, the site of a 1955 lunch counter sit-in by African-American college students. Preservationists and civil rights groups want to save the building as a landmark, while an out-of-town developer seeks to raze the structure to make way for a $150 million development.

The protestors came from SEIU Local 1199, Maryland's largest health care union, and Local 32BJ, representing building service workers. The Baltimore chapter of Local 1199 was founded in 1969 during a campaign led by Coretta Scott King and has strong ties to the civil rights movement. "Our history and Baltimore's history is bound up in the civil rights struggle," the chapter's executive vice president, John Reid, said in a statement. "We can't build a healthy future for Baltimore by erasing this vital part of its past."

City officials and members of the development team say they are seeking ideas to commemorate the sit-in but don't have answers yet. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is forming a task force that will examine ways to jumpstart redevelopment on the west side of downtown and address issues holding up development.

ed.gunts@baltsun.com

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