Civil Rights in Maryland

Posted on January 13, 2008

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My mind has been wandering free in Iowa and New Hampshire, but my body keeps showing up for work every day in Maryland.

While I was distracted by national politics, the Maryland General Assembly commenced its regular 90-day session.

I had a draft on the General Assembly written and was planning to post it today (Sunday).

But then I woke up and read the news that State Sen. Gwendolyn T. Britt of Prince George’s County has died. She was 66.

A picture in The Washington Post of Gwendolyn Britt at age 18, holding a sign during a 1960 protest at the segregated Glen Echo Amusement Park, was all too real and too recent. My brother reminded me this morning that we had taken swimming lessons at the all-white swimming pool at Glen Echo in about 1958.

People today often talk and act as if the history of slavery and the 100 years of legal segregation and second-class citizenship that followed are ancient history. But the truth is, that’s how we lived in the D.C. area in the 1950s and early 1960s. Segregation was everywhere.

The Hot Shoppes on Veirs Mill Road in Wheaton was built with two sets of locker rooms in the basement. One for white employees and one for African-American employees. By the time I went to work there in 1964, Hot Shoppes had closed one set of locker rooms and provided integrated facilities for employees. But all of the managers and most of the employees in the dining room were white, and most of the employees in the kitchen were black.

Classified ads in The Washington Post and The Evening Star were divided into four categories: “Help wanted, white men,” “Help wanted, colored men,” “Help wanted, white women,” “Help wanted, colored women.”

Sen. Britt and many others of her generation went to jail to end segregation. They created real change. A few years later, many more went to jail to end a war.

It was not that long ago. It seems like only yesterday, to me. We thought we had made progress. But here we are, in 2008. Neighborhoods and schools in both the D.C. and Baltimore metropolitan areas are still largely segregated. We are again trying to end a war, this time a war in Iraq that we started on purpose.

Seems like we’re back where we started. I wonder if we are much different now than we were then. — Bernie Hayden

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