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Oral history reveals news on 1950's civil rights history
From a news release
2012-02-28

This article shared 6666 times since Tue Feb 28, 2012
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Baltimore, Maryland — The Maryland Historical Society (MdHS) will explore the Paul Henderson Photograph Collection (ca. 1930-1960) and the McKeldin-Jackson Oral History Project (1969-1977) in a Black History Month event on February 23 from 6-8pm. There will be a panel discussion and accompanying exhibition. The panelists will discuss their personal affiliations and expertise with the civil rights struggle in Maryland in relation to the collections. Dr. Helena Hicks, one of only three surviving members of the widely publicized sit-in at Read's Drugstore in Baltimore, will reveal the impromptu nature of the 1955 protest. The event is free and open to the public. Parking is free. For further information: Jennifer Ferretti, 410-685-3750; jferretti@mdhs.org

Dr. Helena Hicks was a Morgan State College student in 1955. She and other black students were denied service at the Read's Drug Store in downtown Baltimore and decided to stage a sit-in, one of the earliest in America. "It was completely impromptu," says Dr. Hicks. A front-page headline in the Afro-American newspaper read, "Now serve all" after the success at Read's. Its impact sparked a firestorm of protests resulting not only in the desegregation of Read's but also the shut down of the White Coffee Pot restaurant chain where patrons refused to cross picket lines. "We led the way," says Dr. Hicks, "and it was a direct result of Lillie Carroll [Jackson]. She had put into us as youngsters that you had to stand up, you were equal, and you had to make the rest of the world understand and respect that. Don't let anyone take freedom away from you."

Dr. Skipp Sanders, the Interim Director of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African American History and Culture, will introduce the panel and John Gartrell, the Archivist at the Afro-American Newspapers Archives and Research Center, will moderate.

Dr. Hicks, currently a commissioner of the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP), will be joined by Larry Gibson, Professor of Law at University of Maryland; Dr. Barry Lanman, Professor and Director of the Martha Ross Center for Oral History at University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and initial interviewer in the McKeldin-Jackson Oral History Project; Dr. Michelle Scott, an associate professor at UMBC; and William F. Zorzi, former reporter and editor for nearly twenty years at The Baltimore Sun newspaper and co-writer for the HBO series "The Wire".

Paul Henderson (1899-1966) was an African American photographer who worked in Baltimore from the 1930s to 1960s. Much of his career was spent at the Afro-American newspaper. Henderson documented both significant events and every day life in Baltimore's African American communities, leaving behind a collection of over 6,000 photographs never seen in its entirety. A selection of Henderson's photography will be on display outside of the H. Furlong Baldwin Library.

Henderson captured images of Paul Robeson, concert singer, protesting the Jim Crow admissions policy at Baltimore's Ford Theatre, a protest that lasted seven years. He photographed significant leaders such as Juanita Jackson Mitchell, the first African American woman to practice law in the state of Maryland and Thurgood Marshall, council to the NAACP before becoming the first African American Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Morgan State College (now University), vocational schools, church and civic organizations are also well represented in the collection.

The McKeldin-Jackson Oral History Project is an inquiry into the civil rights movement in Maryland during the mid 20th century focusing on the roles played by two Maryland leaders, Governor Theodore McKeldin and Dr. Lillie Carroll Jackson. From 1974 through 1977, volunteers conducted eighty-five interviews with civil rights activists and leaders, as well as those who opposed the movement. Interviewees discuss their involvement with the NAACP, Maryland politics, law, education, and their relationship with Governor McKeldin and Dr. Jackson.

Theodore R. McKeldin was Mayor of Baltimore (1943-1947, 1963-1967), Governor of Maryland (1951-1959) and an advocate for civil rights. McKeldin was born in Baltimore, MD in 1900 and graduated from Baltimore City College. He earned his law degree from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1925. McKeldin was an ardent supporter of civil rights and was a recipient of the Sidney Hollander Award, an award given to those who have worked diligently towards equal rights for all Americans. He was re-elected as Mayor of Baltimore in 1963 and returned to public service with a focus on urban renewal and the Baltimore Inner Harbor until his death in 1974.

Dr. Lillie Carroll Jackson was a pioneering civil rights leader beginning in the 1930s and an organizer of the Baltimore Branch of the NAACP. Jackson was also born in Baltimore, MD in 1889. She believed in non-violent resistance to racial segregation. Her daughter, Jauanita Jackson Mitchell, became the first African American woman to practice law in Maryland. Her son-in-law, Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr., was a lobbyist for the NAACP for nearly 30 years. She sponsored the Baltimore City-Wide Young People's Forum, founded by Juanita Jackson Mitchell, which conducted a campaign to end segregation. The campaign encouraged African American residents of Baltimore to only shop where they could work. She became president of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP in 1935, a position she held until 1970. In 1942, Jackson organized a movement to encourage black residents to register to vote. Jackson was inducted into the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame in 1986.

Paired with the Paul Henderson Photograph Collection, the McKeldin-Jackson Oral History Project provides context and feeling for an important part of the American story. Together, these collections recreate an era. For more information on the Paul Henderson Photograph Collection and McKeldin-Jackson Oral History Project visit: mdhsseenheard.wordpress.com

Larry Gibson, raised in Baltimore, attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. from 1960-1964 where he was student body president and Chairperson of D.C. Students for Civil Rights. His long career as a civil rights attorney, professor of law, and political advisor includes defending the Black Panther Party (1971), becoming University of Virginia's first black law professor, and serving as the Maryland State Chairman of the Clinton/Gore presidential campaign. Most recently, he has traveled internationally serving as an advisor to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia and Africa's first democratically elected female president.

Dr. Barry Lanman was one of the original interviewers for the McKeldin-Jackson Oral History Project. Among his notable interviews were James Hepbron, Police Commissioner of Baltimore in the 1950s; Millard Tawes, Governor of Maryland; David W. Zimmerman, Former Deputy Superintendent of the State Department of Education; and Governor McKeldin's son, Theodore R. McKeldin Jr. Lanman received his doctorate from Temple University, served as the first chair of the Oral History Association's Committee on Education and is a founder and past-president of Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Dr. Michelle Scott is an associate professor at UMBC whose work specializes in the study of race and ethnicity in the American experience, with emphasis on African American history, black musical culture, and women's studies. Dr. Scott has contributed to the Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project, volumes 2-4, and the forthcoming Columbia Guide to African American history from 1939 to the present.

William F. Zorzi was a reporter and editor at The Sun of Baltimore for nearly 20 years before leaving the newspaper to write for television in 2002. Zorzi, a Baltimore native, wrote for the last three seasons of "The Wire" television program on Home Box Office (HBO) and also acted in the series, portraying an ill-tempered reporter named Bill Zorzi in a fictional Sun newsroom. He and partner David Simon are now developing a miniseries for HBO about the volatile events surrounding a federal public housing desegregation case in Yonkers, NY, in the 1980s and 1990s. The two also are at work on a book about the rise of the drug culture in Baltimore, using Pennsylvania Avenue and its habitués as the vehicles to tell the story.

The Maryland Historical Society was founded in 1844 and is the largest museum and library dedicated to the history of Maryland. Occupying an entire city block in the Mount Vernon district of Baltimore, the Society's mission is to "collect, preserve, and interpret the objects and materials that reflect Maryland's diverse cultural heritage." The Society is home to the original manuscript of the Star-Spangled Banner and publishes a quarterly titled Maryland Historical Magazine. More information about the Maryland Historical Society can be found online at www.mdhs.org

Follow the hashtag #SeenHeard on Twitter for all related tweets.

Photo captions:

1. Group portrait [NAACP lawyers with Esther McCready and others] September 1950; Digital archival print from 4 in. x 5 in. acetate negative. Paul Henderson Photograph Collection, HEN.02.07-019

Although fully qualified, Esther McCready (third from left) was denied admission to the University of Maryland School of Nursing solely because of her skin color. Seen here with her attorneys, Thurgood Marshall (fourth from left) and Donald Gaines Murray (second from left), McCready sued the university for admission based on the argument that she was not provided "equal protection under the law" and forced to pursue her education out-of-state where blacks were accepted while white nurses were being trained in state. On April 14, 1950, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in McCready's favor.

2. On February 23 over 200 attended "Seen & Heard: Maryland's Civil Rights Era in Photographs and Oral Histories" at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. The panel discussion focused on civil rights protests in Baltimore from the 1930's through the 1950's. This was long before before most of America was aware of the civil rights movement, which first received national attention in the 1960's. One of the speakers was Dr. Helena Hicks who is one of the first sit-in demonstrators at a Baltimore Reads Drug Store. One of the members of the audience was A. Joseph Nattans. He is the grandson of the manager of the Reads Drug Store (Arthur Nattans) where Hicks and other Morgan students staged a sit in in 1955. The sit-in led to the voluntary desegregation of that Reads lunch counter by Nattans long before most restaurant's served blacks. One of the panel members, Larry Gibson, was a college student at the time and recounted that Reads was the only place he could eat in 1956. He would be running practice for track and said," I ran right to Reads". Pictured are A. Joseph Nattans (left) and Larry Gibson (right) after the panel discussion at the Maryland Historical Society.

3. On February 23 over 200 attended "Seen & Heard: Maryland's Civil Rights Era in Photographs and Oral Histories" at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. One of the panelists, Larry Gibson, called McCready to the podium and told her story. McCready added, "On my first day in Nursing School, I was standing by the elevator and this R.N. said, 'If you don't pray to God, you won't get out of here, because nobody here is supporting you.' I looked her right in the eye and I said, 'If God intends for me to get out of here, nobody can stop me,' She said to me later that when I said that, she knew I was going to be all right. We became friends." Pictured during the panel discussion are Larry Gibson (second from left) and Esther McCready (with microphone).

Photo credits: for photo 1, Paul Henderson, photo 2 and 3, Marc Apter


This article shared 6666 times since Tue Feb 28, 2012
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