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Black history month a time to reflect on Baltimore heroes (Commentary)

Andrea Mcdaniels

Baltimore Sun

We all know about Frederick Douglass, the great Maryland abolitionist and orator, and Harriett Tubman, who led fellow slaves from Maryland on perilous trips to freedom.

Ms. Tubman in particular has received long overdue recognition in recent years, including a motion picture based on her life, a state park in her honor and a statue at the State House in Annapolis. Yeoman efforts to replace Andrew Jackson’s image on the $20 bill with that of the great conductor of the Underground Railroad were also made, though thwarted by the Trump administration.

And while Marylanders should be proud and celebrate these great historic figures, Black History Month also offers a time to celebrate other African American heroes who have made great contributions to the state, but not garnered the same public attention. These are people who fought so that African Americans could have better political representation, economic opportunities and basic civil rights. Their fight is even more relevant as some of those same issues have reappeared.

We can use the work of political think tank Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle as a cheat sheet. The group began chronicling important political figures in Baltimore a couple of years ago. Among other things, they hoped to learn from the activists and political scions of the past, rather than try to reinvent the wheel. This year, the group put the names of eight of these people on a T-shirt.

“There are lot of black people that a lot of us did not know that set up the foundation for the political work that we do,” said Chief Executive Officer Adam J. Jackson. “People way smarter than us, way more experienced than us, did this way before we were born, and we should follow their lead.”

Represented on the t-shirt are:

  1. Verda Freeman Welcome, the first African American woman to be elected to the Maryland House of Delegates and Senate as well as the first African American person to be elected to any state Senate in the United States. Ms. Welcome should become visible since her portrait was recently moved to a more prominent place in the Senate chambers.
  2. William Lloyd “Little Willie” Adams, a businessman, venture capitalist and financier who started as a numbers runner and went to become a huge influence on black economic power, bankrolling countless businesses owned by African Americans.
  3. Victorine Adams, wife to Willie, could have easily hidden in the shadows of her husband, but instead made waves as big as his. Long before she became the first black woman elected to the Baltimore City Council, she pushed political empowerment among African Americans, organizing massive voter registration drives. She was also the catalyst for the Fuel Fund of Maryland, which provides financial assistance to people struggling to pay their utility bills.
  4. Juanita Jackson Mitchell, the first black woman to practice law in Maryland and the first black woman to attend the University of Maryland School of Law. She used her degree to integrate restaurants, public schools and recreation facilities, according to the Maryland Commission for Women. Part of the prominent political Mitchell family, she also organized many of the voter registration efforts for the NAACP.
  5. Raymond Haysbert Sr. was CEO of the black-owned Parks Sausage company, but was also a skilled political operative. He helped Harry Cole get elected the first black state senator in Maryland, and helped the owner of Parks Sausage, Henry J. Parks Jr. (also a trailblazer in business) win a seat on the Baltimore City Council in 1963.
  6. Madeline Wheeler Murphy, writer, activist and advocate for the poor. She was often heard on television and radio talking local politics and was on the first poverty board for the Community Action Commission.
  7. Walter P. Carter, chairman of the local chapter of Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Mr. Carter organized 1960 Freedom Rides to the Eastern Shore and helped desegregate Gwynn Oak Park. He led countless protests against segregated facilities.
  8. Parren Mitchell, Maryland’s first black congressman. As a representative of Maryland 7th Congressional District, also held by the late Elijah Cummings, Mr. Mitchell was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and spearheaded federal programs to aid minority-owned businesses.

Stories about African Americans not celebrated enough can also be found at The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture. Earlier this week, the museum celebrated Gloria Richardson Day in honor of the woman who led The Cambridge Movement fight for equality in the Eastern Shore town.

The list of people I have noted is not meant to be all inclusive. There are plenty of more people that fought the good fight, so that African Americans had chances at better lives.

Much respect to all of those people as well.

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