See Baltimore Sit-ins
& Protests (1960) for background & more information.
See also Baltimore & Maryland for web links.
In the 1940s and 1950s, when I was growing up there, Baltimore was a segregated city. All public bathrooms and drinking fountains were marked "Colored" or "White," and most restaurants allowed black people to buy food and carry it out, but not to be seated in the restaurant.
In the Fall of 1961, I returned to Baltimore from a year of study in Israel. During the year I was away, the civil rights movement in the United States had already begun, but I was only minimally aware of it. When I returned, and started my sophomore year at Goucher College, I became involved, through a classmate, Diane Ostrovsky 64, in the movement as part of a Baltimore group called the Civic Interest Group (CIG), made up of students from Morgan State College, University of Maryland, Hopkins, Goucher, and other area colleges. CIG had started sitting in at segregated lunch counters and restaurants.
Every Saturday, we students met in a large group, where we were divided into small groups of four or six, some white students from Goucher and Hopkins and some black students from Morgan State, and the U of MD, and told which restaurant to enter. We were instructed to dress up for this event the young men in suits or slacks and jackets, white shirts and neckties; the young women in skirts and blouses or dresses, stockings, and pumps. The restaurants, which all had signs displayed that said "we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone," were to be given no chance to reject us based on dress codes. In most cases, we were to sit in the restaurant and wait to be served. If we were asked to leave because the restaurant would not serve us, we would leave as soon as the manager read us the Maryland trespass law (which made it a misdemeanor to "enter upon or cross over the land, premises or private property of any person or personsafter having been duly notified by the owner or his agent not to do so"), or as soon as the police arrived. In a few cases, a group of volunteers who were willing to take things one step further would refuse to leave; they were invariably arrested.
Up until December of that year, I participated in the sit-ins each week, but did not join any group that would be arrested. In late December, however, my roommate from my Israel year, Deborah Neimand from Syracuse, NY, visited me in Baltimore. Being braver than I, Debby suggested we join a group that would stay in the restaurant and be arrested. Six of us sat-in at Hoopers Restaurant at Charles and Fayette Streets, refused to leave, and were arrested and sent to a temporary lock-up facility. We were all later released for $103 each collateral, paid by CIG. CIG issued a statement on our arrest, which was quoted in the Baltimore Sun:
"These repeated demonstrations by students are being staged to awaken the moral conscience of Marylanders as to their responsibility in this quest for freedom. The restaurateurs "practice of racial discrimination is making a mockery of our Constitution and the theme of Christmas."
Our short time in the Baltimore lock-up was educational. I noticed that nearly all of the inmates there were black, and most were in for drunk and disorderly conduct. When we first arrived, we heard many shouts from the cells, from inebriated men and women who were calling out for release. Word must have reached them, though, that a group of young "freedom riders" had been admitted, because their shouts changed to "ride, freedom, ride!" and "we shall overcome!" They wanted us to know that they were on our side.
MANDELL AND BALLOWS
Shortly after that experience, I noticed a letter to the editor in The Jewish Times of Baltimore describing an incident that had taken place on Reisterstown Road at Mandell and Ballows, a Jewish-owned delicatessen. A group of Israeli sailors, all originally of Yemenite extraction, had gone to the deli and been denied service because of their dark skin. The Jewish-owned restaurants, like most of the other restaurants in town, practiced segregation. Later, once the restaurant manager realized these were Jews from abroad, and not dark skinned Baltimoreans, apologies were made, and the sailors were served, courtesy of the restaurant. According to an article in Jet Magazine, the manager, who later was asked about the incident by a Baltimore reporter, said "they looked like any other n*****s to me."
I remember thinking why is it fine to serve people of dark skin who have come from the other side of the world, and not fine to serve those who live right here in the neighborhood?
I brought this situation up to the members of my Habonim group, an idealistic labor Zionist group, and we decided to picket the restaurant. Twenty of us, carrying signs in both Hebrew and English, marched outside the diner. I remember carrying a sign with a verse from the Songs of Songs in Hebrew shichora ani 'nava, "I am black and beautiful." According to a small article in The Baltimore Sun the next day, someone was carrying a sign saying "Discrimination isnt Kosher." Jet Magazine mentions a sign warning "Beware the Florida Suntan."
The response of the adult Jewish community to our demonstration was negative from nearly all sides. The Labor Zionists complained that we should be focused on Israel. One adult member stated "We are all standing with one foot on the boat to Israel. Americas social problems are not ours." Others in the Jewish community were appalled that we were Jews picketing Jewish establishments. What right had we to pick on a Jews business when so many other restaurants were also segregated? Only the Baltimore Board of Rabbis supported us. They passed a resolution the following week stating that Jews must be in the vanguard in the movement to provide equal accommodations, and urged Jews not to patronize restaurants that discriminated. Our Habonim group passed out copies of this resolution in front of many restaurants in the Jewish area of Baltimore. This action caused our group to be chastised for being Jews who would "attack Jewish businesses."
In February 1962, a demonstration against segregation was organized, and our Habonim group put out a flyer inviting all Jewish youth groups and other youth to participate as a tribute to President Lincoln on his birthday. Ahead of the demonstration The Jewish Times published an editorial asking Jewish youth NOT "to become embroiled in an ugly situation which cannot be settled until the State Legislature takes some positive step to see that discrimination and segregation are outlawed. " The Jewish Times asked that parents "make sure their sons and daughters do not join an unruly mob." Many did join in, though, and the demonstration came off peacefully.
THE EASTERN SHORE
In the months that followed, CIG moved its sit-ins to the towns of Cambridge, Crisfield, Chestertown, and Easton on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, an area that was even more segregated than Baltimore. For these "freedom rides" we were joined by students from outside the Baltimore area, and our group now numbered in the hundreds. We were bused to the town, and then were fed dinner by one of the black churches in the town. The local congregants went out of their way to welcome us, and treated us like heroes. After dinner, we broke up into small groups and began entering segregated white restaurants, and/or picketing. If we were not among those who had agreed to stay and be arrested, we were later bused back to Baltimore and other cities.
In Chestertown, Mayor Phillip G. Wilmer blamed the "trouble" on "outsiders" and insisted that "our good colored folks here" were not in favor of the sit-ins and demonstrations. According to The Baltimore Afro-American, "the mayors statementcreated a mild furor in the colored community" which reacted with sentiments ranging from incredulity to outright derision." Many in the local community were participating in the demonstrations, and even took the opportunity to form a local branch of the NAACP in Chestertown.
EQUAL ACCOMMODATIONS ACT
In June 1963, President John F. Kennedy called for legislation "giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the publichotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores, and similar establishments," as well as "greater protection for the right to vote." After Kennedys assassination, President Lyndon B. Johnson told Congress "No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy's memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long." The Civil Rights Bill was signed into law July 2, 1964.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE DEMONSTRATIONS
I always felt that our demonstrations, at least in some small way, helped lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act. But I was extremely pleased and surprised to see us mentioned in a U.S. House of Representatives resolution (H. Res. 1566) passed in July, 2010, recognizing the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). H. Res 1566 detailed the history of the equal accommodations and voting rights demonstrations, and included the Civic Interest Group of Baltimore, Maryland, among the groups it recognized for initiating sit-ins and pickets which convinced Baltimore stores and restaurants to integrate.
Young people today often do not believe me when I describe the segregated conditions of my youth in Baltimore, and I am always glad to hear they dont think such conditions were possible. While we may still have much to improve in this country, we have moved from separate water fountains to a country with an African American president, and I am proud to have been even a small part of that movement.
"Six are Charged in Racial Sit-In," The Baltimore Sun,
October 7, 1961
"Letter to the Editor," The Jewish Times (Baltimore), December 22, 1961; January 12, 1962
"Police Arrest 6 Here in Sit-Ins," The Baltimore Sun, December 23, 1961
"Anti-Bias Pickets Use Jewish Signs," The Baltimore Sun, January 14, 1962
"Cafi Doors Slammed on Black Jews," The Baltimore Afro American, January 20, 1962
"Jewish Cafi Bars Yemenites: 'Looked Like N******'" Jet Magazine, February 8, 1962,
"Clergymen Demonstrate Against Bias," The Baltimore Sun, February 8, 1962
"Mayor Blames 'Outsiders' for Demonstrations," The Baltimore Afro American, February 13, 1962,"
"A Call to All Youth" Habonim (Baltimore), February, 1962
"Lincoln Birthday Demonstrations," editorial, The Jewish Times (Baltimore), February 9, 1962
"11 Arrested in Sit-Ins On Shore," The Baltimore Sun, March 4, 1962,
"We Are Not a Chain of Discussion Groups," Furrows, May, 1962
"Attacked by Many; Supported by a Few," by Barry Krasner and Morty Cohen, Furrows, May, 1962
Copyright © Roslyn Garfeld Lang. 2012