Frank DeFilippo: Black History Month ends with a lesson in the politics of organizations


By Frank A. DeFilippo, Maryland Matters

February 28, 2022

A happy note on which to end Black History Month is to look back at how black people in Maryland rose to political prominence in our state through their drive for representation in Baltimore City.

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Their rise began in heavily populated downtown neighborhoods and eventually spread to the maze of East Baltimore and the far reaches of Northwest Baltimore. White population decline and redistribution helped.

The drive involved the well traveled pattern of people moving in straight lines. Black residents followed in the footsteps of Jewish residents and other ethnic migrations that traced neighborhoods to new jurisdictional boundaries to and into the newly developed surrounding counties. Prince George’s County is another story of its own.

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From Filippo

As the highly respected Del. Howard “Pete” Rawlings, “People vote for people who walk like them, talk like them, and smell like them.” (Decoded in political language – identify your vote, organize your vote and publish your vote on Election Day.)

Adjust your mirror. Travel back in time to a time when politics was a face-to-face affair and political organizations were the building blocks of elective office. Gradually, black politicians learned to challenge whites at their own game by emulating their tactics.

Start with Senator Verda F. Welcome, the first woman of color elected to the Maryland Senate in 1962 and the second black woman in the United States to serve in a state senate. But initially, she was elected to the House of Delegates in 1958, not the first for a black woman, but nonetheless a significant achievement for the time.

Although she claimed several firsts, Welcome was not the first black female legislator elected to the General Assembly. These rafters belong to the class of 1954 and the election of Del. Truly Hatchett, Senator Harry Cole and Del. Emory Cole, according to the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland. And, accept it or not, both Coles were Baltimore City Republicans. Harry Cole was later the first black judge appointed to the Maryland Court of Appeals. (Prince George’s elected its first black member of the General Assembly in 1966.)

Two names dominated politics in Baltimore’s Fourth District at a time when the city was neatly divided into six compact legislative districts — political impresario James H. “Jack” Pollack and Senator Welcome. For it was Welcome who broke Pollack’s iron grip on the Fourth and pursued him into the neighboring Fifth District where his decline and fall accelerated.

From the clubhouse of his Trenton Democratic Club on Trenton St., just off Park Circle, Pollack ensured that bright young Jewish candidates were elected across the ballot with just the occasional gesture. towards black residents. Yet it was Pollack who sponsored the first integrated ticket in the Fourth District, mostly out of necessity – Irma Dixon, Walter Dixon (no relation), Maurice Sopher and Harvey Epstein.

But when the racial makeup of the district began to change, Welcome led the charge to elect more black candidates. As Trenton’s power faded, Pollack moved his base of operations to the Fifth and did business under the banner of the Town and Country Democratic Club. Decades ago, the Trenton Pavilion was put up for sale. At its peak, the Trenton Democratic Club’s annual victory dance at the old Emerson Hotel was a political event that typically drew over 2,000 people, allies and rivals alike.

Welcome’s club, the Fourth District Democrats, met regularly on the top floor of a former theater at North and Pennsylvania Avenues, later bulldozed to accommodate a subway entrance. Eventually, one of Welcome’s proteges, Senator Troy Brailey, rushed at her and defeated her. And a member of a rival organization, Del. Ernie Young, contracted assassination on Welcome. A bullet grazed his buttocks. Two men were convicted for the attempt.

The Mitchell family’s power base was also the Fourth District which regularly sent Mitchells to the State House, City Hall, and Congress. Among them was Clarence Mitchell IV, known as C-4, who was elected to the House of Delegates where his father’s political career began. And now another Mitchell, Keiffer, is a top aide to Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. Clarence Mitchell Jr., the famed Washington NAACP lobbyist, was father and brother on the family tree, and his wife, Juanita Jackson Mitchell, was the daughter of Lillie May Carroll Jackson, founder of the Maryland chapter of the NAACP.

William “Little Willie” Adams, one of America’s wealthiest black men, was Welcome’s rival for political power. Adams was allied with Pollack. Through his political club, the People’s Democratic Club, Adams regularly fielded lists of candidates against Welcome’s tickets, but it was Welcome who usually won due to his alliance with the Mount Royal Democratic Club and the four constituencies. which he controlled along North Avenue.

Adams’ protege and business partner was Councilman Henry G. Parks, founder and chairman of Parks’ Sausages in which Adams was a major investor, as well as Adams’ wife, Victorine, who also served on the board.

Eventually, Adams formed an alliance with Irv Kovens across district lines in the Fifth District, and it was then that Adams became a major political force in the Fourth District. Kovens would become the main domo of Maryland politics under Governor Marvin Mandel’s legacy, dismissing Pollack as Democratic political leader.

There were other, less obvious, but nonetheless major organizations that played a role in Fourth politics – including the Frizbee Society and Woman Power, which was co-founded by Victorine Adams.

The old Second arrondissement, squatted in the center of the city, collided with the Fourth. Cross North Avenue in either direction and you’ll be either way. Move east and its population, to some extent, resembled the concentration of black residents of the Fourth. The political rivalry between Westside and Eastside was an unlikely feud over social status, with black residents of Westside suggesting high status due to location.

Members of the Mount Royal Democratic Club were Maryland’s first “brilliants” in politics – a badge awarded to them in 1964 for their support of Joseph D. Tydings’ reformist bid for the U.S. Senate and the 1962 campaign for the governor of David Hume.

The Mount Royal Democratic Club began as a social club in the late 1950s when bankers and developers wanted to level the grand old mansions of Bolton Hill, which had become predominantly lower economy class rental properties. Indirectly, they really threatened to destroy Tom Ward’s political base. Ward was a member of the city council, honcho of Mount Royal, and later a judge.

Mount Royal’s membership has dwindled over the years since its peak of 400 when it was one of Baltimore’s most influential clubs. He sponsored one of the best Christmas parties in town, regularly drawing over 500 members and political voyeurs to the original building of the Maryland Institute College of Art. Members of Mount Royal used to meet at the Montfaucon American Legion Hall in the 900 block of St. Paul Street. At its low point, the few remaining members gathered at the Fifth Regiment Armory Officers’ Club.

By contrast, rival New Democratic Club (NDC-2) was an offshoot that formed when former City Council President Walter S. Orlinsky lost a power play to Ward in 1968 in a struggle for the control of the bulletin of Mount Royal. . Orlinsky’s former political neighbor and Bolton Hill neighbor Senator Julian Lapides aligned himself with Ward and remained at Mount Royal where he served as president.

One of the sources of Mount Royal’s initial strength was its support for Welcome in the upper four districts of Bolton Hill, where they intersected with the neighboring Fourth District.

NDC-2, home of former Council Speaker Mary Pat Clarke, rose to the forefront of municipal politics in 1970, two years after its inception. Orlinsky negotiated a merger ticket with Clarence “Du” Burns’ Eastside Democratic Organization. Together, the two clubs beat all of the Mont-Royal candidates except for Lapides and Del. Joseph Chester, who showed up on the Mont-Royal ticket.

Burns will become Baltimore’s first black mayor when, as city council president, he succeeds William Donald Schaefer who becomes governor. Kurt Schmoke would become the city’s first “elected” black mayor when he beat Burns in his own race.

In another split, Senator Nathan Irby split from Burns’ EDO to form the Eastside Democratic Forum.

In the middle of all the inner-city black politics was the Hampden Democratic Club, a white male island surrounded by two black neighborhoods. His clubhouse on Chestnut Avenue, in the heart of Hampden – now a kitschy, partly gentrified area known mainly for Christmas lights and quirky restaurants – and while his real estate was technically in the Second District, he worked on the fringes surrounding areas of the fourth and fifth districts. .

Hampden in the 1960s was the scene of race riots and fierce resistance to black residents moving into the former working-class neighborhood of former warehouses and mills, now converted into offices and condos.

And so did black residents, just like other ethnic groups before them – Irish, Jewish, Italian, German, Polish and others – finding security in familiar numbers and strength in political organizations. Yet centuries before black politicians took command of certain constituencies, they as a cohort found solace in their churches, which became the rallying points for much of their community, social and civic activity.

On these constituency organizations, the early architects of the political structure fashioned the stepping stones for today’s robust black presence in the halls of power and on the ballots which, in June and November, could offer even more gratitude and a silent greeting to these generations. who, before the passage of the Maryland Public Housing Act in 1964, could not sit down to a hamburger at a greasy-spoon restaurant in the Free State.

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