Baltimore’s Northwood: Remembrance of Desegregation Past

Going, going...The brick-walled, 1,000-seat Northwood Theatre was the last structure in the shopping center to be torn down. The building housing the theater itself was situated physically behind the actual shopping strip, with entry through the lobby from the promenade. Photo by William F. Zorzi

Times change. Buildings come and go. Things are “repurposed.” (New verbs are created out of thin air.) Whole cities reinvent themselves.

In Baltimore, where not a tremendous lot seems to be reinvented, much of late has been made of the demolition of the Lexington Market Arcade, a relatively recent addition to what is reportedly the nation’s oldest public market, dating to 1782. “World famous,” the signs say.

The daily newspaper noticed. The Afro. The TVs, too. The town’s hipsters lamented the loss on social media.

But the structure being demolished, over there on the west side of what used to be the city’s central business district, only opened in 1982, when William Donald Schaefer was still mayor. So, it’s not so great of a loss. Not really.

It’s not as if the historic market in its entirety were being torn down and the remaining empty lot paved over in its stead. In fact, this is all part of the city’s latest plan for revamping the old space into an improved new space, as the planners like to call most anything.

Meanwhile, the real action seemed to be going on unnoticed about 4½ miles northeast of the downtown, up around the corner from Morgan State University.

All the market hoopla and media handwringing occurred the same week that work continued in earnest to tear down the whole of an actual landmark – though not world famous by any means — the Northwood Shopping Center.

What makes that site worthy of note is a series of chapters that likely would not be included among the most charming pages of this Southern City of Charm’s history.

Those chapters hark back to a time, not that long ago, when travel in a parallel universe – one Black, one white — was the reality, rather than a mere political invention endorsed by the paranoid and delusional.

Forget the past’s most egregious offenses – fire hoses and dogs and beatings and burnings and murders.

This is about the daily ritual, the all-but-unnoticed creep of racism in which African Americans in these United States endured constant and repeated slights and indignities so painfully commonplace as to be shrugged off numbly, routine in their own drudgery. Thumbs on a scale, time and again.

Northwood Shopping Center, its stores, restaurants and movie theater, was the scene of persistent and intransigent segregation, and years upon years of protests and demonstrations against it, before the invisible, seemingly impenetrable walls surrounding the strip finally came down. Slowly. One at a time.

Morgan College meets the neighbors

For me, recalling the integration of the Northwood has its roots – just as improbable as it sounds — in “Son of Flubber,” an eminently forgettable Disney black-and-white film about a wacky scientist who invents a Super Ball-like substance with hyper-bounceability. (Hijinks ensue.)

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Northwood Shopping Center, rechristened Northwood Plaza a couple of decades ago, has finally been torn down, after a recent tortured history of its redevelopment’s fits and starts, all the while falling further into disrepair and becoming a magnet for crime in the area in Northeast Baltimore.

Northwood Plaza’s beauty shop was among the last businesses in the shopping strip to be torn down. Photo by William F. Zorzi

The latest plans for redevelopment, an estimated $50 million venture, will bring “Northwood Commons” to the site and feature a Barnes & Noble college bookstore, for nearby Morgan State University, and a Lidl discount grocery store, the German chain’s first outlet in the city, among other outlets. The whole of Northwood Commons is scheduled to open in 2022 — at least it was before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

The shopping strip historically has not been a particularly great neighbor to Morgan, so it seems a bit ironic that Northwood Commons would include the university as a partner in the development, providing a new home for the school’s Office of Police and Public Safety. Yet, it is a perfectly natural fit.

Morgan already commands a towering presence at the east end of the site, once the location of the Hecht’s Northwood department store, with two modern glass-and-steel architectural specimens built in the last five years – the Earl G. Graves School of Business and Management building and the Martin D. Jenkins Behavioral and Social Sciences Center.

The shopping strip, which several weeks ago was reduced to a pile of rubble and carted away, had stood in stark contrast to those two beautiful modern classroom buildings which rise from the east end of the site, along Havenwood Road at Hillen Road.

Morgan State University’s Martin D. Jenkins Behavioral and Social Sciences Center is located where the old Hecht Co.’s Northwood department store once stood. Photo by William F. Zorzi

The irony is that little more than 100 years ago, when then-Morgan College sought to relocate to what was then Baltimore County, just west of Lauraville, on 70-some acres of the old Ivy Mill site east of Hillen Road at what is now East Cold Spring Lane, the school was not exactly welcomed with open arms.

Just after the United States entered World War I in May 1917, news circulated that Morgan wanted to move from Fulton and Edmondson avenues in West Baltimore, where it had been situated for years, and develop “a residential section for colored people” — reports that were met with objections of “fever heat,” according to one account.

The Sun of Baltimore explained the situation thusly:

Fights Negro Invasion

Lauraville Is Up In Arms Against Morgan College.

 Other Sections In Protest

Big Delegations Will Present Resolutions to College Authorities Today, Following Meeting.

“Lauraville has blood in its eye for an invasion of its 99 percent, pure white community by a negro institution, colony or settlement of any kind or character and proved last night in a big mass meeting at the Volunteer Fire Engine House its determination to fight any such invasion to the last ditch.”

It went on from there.

Representatives from the communities, Lauraville among them, went so far as to attempt blocking the sale of the property by taking the matter to Baltimore County Circuit Court, but the judge ruled in favor of the college.

Unappeased, the opponents vowed to appeal to the state’s highest court — and did. However, two weeks before the Armistice, the Maryland Court of Appeals unanimously agreed with the trial court, finding on behalf of Morgan.

The next year, in the fall of 1919, the college purchased another 40-acre estate just south of its original site, to expand the operation.

In the 35 years that followed – which included the Roaring Twenties, Great Depression, World War II and the aftermath of it all — an uneasy peace between college and community was kept.

But there is a lot of history between here and there.

Carving up the old estates

Century-old maps of Baltimore and environs show a great swath of undeveloped land northeast of the city.

Outside a few sections of Waverly and Govans, very little in the way of development existed between Old York Road, on the west, all the way over to Hillen Road, on the east, until after the city’s 1918 annexation of what had been parts of Baltimore County.

Loch Raven Boulevard was nonexistent. Ditto The Alameda. Hillen Road was barely a two-lane track meandering northward into the county.

But, to paraphrase what was whispered to Ray Kinsella in the “Field of Dreams” cornfield, “If you build it, they will come.”

In the early part of the 20th Century, Baltimore was growing tremendously, fueled by a rapidly expanding manufacturing base. In the decade between 1910 and 1920, the population surged by nearly a third (including those picked up in the annexation) to nearly 734,000, the biggest increase ever.

So, build they did.

The first piece of the Northeast Baltimore puzzle was construction of East 33rd Street from St. Paul Street to Hillen Road, which came about just before the United States entered World War I. Officials opted for a “parked way” median strip with grass and trees — or “parked boulevard” – rather than the old-fashioned curb-to-curb paving in so much of the city center, a nod to the new, genteel suburban living.

Plans to improve and similarly widen Hillen Road followed. The city earlier had acquired land on both sides of the road for a new water filtration plant needed at Lake Montebello to supply the demands of Baltimore’s growing population.

Then in April of 1922, the city Park Board announced, to some surprise, that it was going to build a new municipal stadium in Venable Park along East 33rd Street, where Memorial Stadium would eventually rise, on land that, in part, encompassed what was once Hertel’s Brick Yard. The 50,000-seat stadium, known early on by locals as “The Brick Yard” came to be named Venable Stadium and then, finally, Baltimore Stadium.

“Such a stadium as we propose to build will be one of the best advertisements Baltimore could possibly get,” said Mayor William F. Broening, a Republican, in announcing the plans. “In addition to this, it will lead to the development of the section immediately surrounding the stadium and eventually yield a return that will repay the city for the large investment.”

Sure enough, rowhomes began to fill the blank squares around Waverly and Pen Lucy. New neighborhoods sprouted up to the east and north of the new stadium, with the developments of Lakeside and Ednor Gardens being built on multi-acre tracts by Frank Novak Realty Co. and the E. J. Gallagher Realty Co., well-known names in the local industry.

Still, there lay a huge expanse of undeveloped land in the northeast made up of a handful of old estates, Montebello and Swansea, properties of the Garrett family; Woodbourne, formerly owned by Arunah S. Abell, late founder and publisher of The Sun newspaper of Baltimore; and Marble Hall Farms, once the country home of Enoch Pratt, he of library fame.

Notable on that list was Montebello, a huge tract earlier owned John W. Garrett, a banker and president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Co. A once-grand estate that had included 1,400 acres, Montebello had been divided among Garrett family heirs, with some small pieces around the edges sold off to developers, a few acres at a time.

It was once owned – and named — by Maj. Gen. Samuel Smith, former Revolutionary War officer, congressman, U.S. senator and mayor, but perhaps best known as “Defender of Baltimore” in the War of 1812, whose statue now overlooks the Inner Harbor from Federal Hill.

There had been talk about developing this land since the mid-1920s, mostly in the context of the city creating two new “parked” north-south thoroughfares in the area – Loch Raven Boulevard and what would become The Alameda – but details were scant.

Finally, a grand-plans announcement was made in June 1929 that 526 acres of Northeast Baltimore’s prime estates – nearly a full square mile — would be developed for housing under an arrangement with the property owners and the Roland Park Co., the prime mover.

The Roland Park Co. by then had a national reputation for high-end housing and was on a roll after developing three very successful, and monied, communities in North Baltimore – Roland Park, Guilford and Homeland – over the previous 40 years.

Their proposed new development would be called “Northwood,” a planned community, with a wide range of dwelling types – detached homes, row houses and apartments – for several thousand families.

At the heart of Northwood was the Garrett estate, much of it woodland and rolling countryside, though the meadows where cattle once grazed were by then overgrown, and much of the property abandoned and down at the heel. The full-sized horse-racing oval, an antebellum relic that once had a pavilion and viewing stand, had begun to crumble and disappear like the Gilded Age in the new century.

Garrett Racing Stables in July 1936. If they existed still, the stables would now be roughly on the east side of Loch Raven Boulevard, north of East 36th Street. Historic American Buildings Survey, E.H. Pickering, photographer. Library of Congress photo.

Yet the huge, two-story stone racing stables that in their heyday comfortably housed more than 100 horses remained standing well into the 1930s before being torn down. If they still existed today, they would be situated on the east side of Loch Raven Boulevard a little north of East 36th Street and run to the east.

Just four months after the Northwood announcement, the Great Depression officially began with the Black Thursday stock market crash on Oct. 24, 1929, chilling the real estate market, but not deterring the planned development.

Growing the suburbs with Jim Crow

In February 1930, the city kept up the momentum, letting the first contract to grade the rights-of-way for Loch Raven Boulevard and The Alameda, though the construction contracts ended up being completed under the Works Progress Administration.

Over the next year, Argonne Drive, the major east-west route connecting Waverly to Hillen Road, was cut through.

By the end of January 1931, the first 22 homes were ready to be seen by the buying public in what is now called Original Northwood – “Section 1” of the new community, on roughly 165 acres of the estate’s sloped and heavily wooded land between the new Loch Raven Boulevard and Alameda. Great care was taken to preserve the original trees and natural landscape characteristics, ads touted at the time, all under the eye of John A. Ahlers, the architect hired by Roland Park Co. to design the project.

The boundaries of this first phase were legally defined and the land re-deeded for development, readying the whole of Northwood’s “Section 1” for the sale of individual properties. Included in the language of that deed and the subsequent deeds was something for which the Roland Park Co. had become nationally famous – and used to market its projects.

“The Roland Park Company has complete charge of the development of Northwood, including the preparation and administration of Protective Restrictions,” a company advertisement stated at the time.

“Pioneers in Restricted Developments,” another ad for the company trumpeted.

These restrictive covenants gave the company, and its successor, architectural control over the what was built, what a structure looked like, even what color it was painted.

But also included, as was pointed out in a contemporaneous Boston Globe article about the benefits of establishing these standards in legal covenants, were restrictions against the sale of properties to “undesirable residents.”

It sounded good – no one wants “undesirable residents” in his or her neighborhood — but what it really did, what it was designed to do, was ensure that Blacks never lived there.

The language in the original Feb. 16, 1931, deed for Section 1 was explicit.

“At no time shall the land include [sic] in said tract or any part thereof or any building erected thereon be occupied by any negro or person of negro extraction[.] This prohibition however is not intended to include the occupancy by a negro domestic servant or other person while employed in or about the premises by the owner or occupant of the land included in said tract[.]”

It is chilling to read, still, just 90 years later.

The Feb. 16, 1931 deed for Section 1 of the Northwood residential development was explicit in its restrictions as to who and who could not live there. Baltimore City Circuit Court document; graphic by William F. Zorzi

Language in covenants like that would remain legally intact until the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Shelley v. Kraemer, struck down such racial restrictions in 1948, finding, in short, that they were unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable. Of course, the Shelley decision was just on paper at that point and only marked just another step in the long housing fight across the nation.

But Northwood’s development was years before such covenants were tested in the courts, and the language was simply included in property deeds, one after another.

The Roland Park Co. continued development of the area through the Depression, including building the Northwood Apartments, then the largest apartment complex in the city, with 388 units.

Being purveyors of planned communities, the Roland Park Co. understood the need for some sort of shopping area near to all this new construction. There simply was nothing close enough to be convenient for the flood of new residents to the area.

Enter the Northwood Shopping Center, in August 1940.

“Situated on the east of Loch Raven Boulevard, one of the most beautiful and most frequented of Baltimore’s northern arteries, the Northwood Shopping Center marks an important step forward in the rapid progress of the city’s northern suburbs,” enthused a newspaper advertisement announcing its opening.

“Through the services rendered by the stores that compose the center, the lives of the residents of Northwood and its environs … will be greatly simplified,” the ad continued.

The Roland Park Co. again had called on Ahlers as the architect for the new shopping center, though there did not appear anything particularly extraordinary about the design, short of the vast asphalt parking lot with spaces for more than 1,000 cars. The structure ran nearly the entire length of Havenwood Road, the new thoroughfare on which it fronted, immediately north of Argonne Drive, between Loch Raven Boulevard and Hillen Road.

“Wide Canopy Means All-Weather Shopping Comfort at Northwood Shopping Center,” was about all the bragging rights it seemed to have.

Among the stores that opened originally were a Read’s Drug Store; a laundry service; beauty salon; caterer; a restaurant to visit “on the maid’s night out,” in the words of an advertisement; candy store; shoe repair; an Acme grocery and a dentist.

Other stores and outlets would come and go. A bank, an Arundel Ice Cream Co. soda fountain, a jeweler, florist, barber. The Northwood Theatre would not appear there for another full decade. The Hecht Co.’s first suburban store, with its Rooftop Restaurant, four years after that.

Jim Crow presided over all of it.

These brand-new suburbs of Northeast Baltimore, with their quiet, leafy streets and convenient shops, just a few blocks from what was then Morgan State College, were yet another slice of these United States where African Americans were not welcome.

1955: Morgan students lead the way

Protesters began demonstrating at the Northwood Shopping Center in January 1955 — the same year that the first-ever African Americans were seated in the Maryland General Assembly, having been elected the previous November.

(For the record, Maryland’s first Black state senator, from West Baltimore’s old 4th District, was the often-overlooked Harry A. Cole, then a young lawyer who had been an active student leader during his time at Morgan more than a decade earlier. Cole would go on to be the first African American judge on the Maryland Court of Appeals.)

Harry A. Cole. Maryland State Archives photo

That was also the same year that seven Morgan State College students planted themselves at the counter of Read’s Drug Store on the southeast corner of Howard and Lexington streets, in the heart of then-vibrant downtown Baltimore, and waited to be served. They never were, and after nearly a half-hour of insults and threats from employees, they left.

The protest was the city’s only-recently celebrated version of the better-known F.W. Woolworth lunch counter sit-in at Greensboro, N.C., in February 1960 – a full five years afterwards — that drew national media attention. It was the all-but-forgotten events of that day in Baltimore that kept the downtown Read’s building from being torn down about eight years ago.

The Committee on Racial Equality, as CORE was then known, took credit for the Read’s demonstrations, both downtown and, that same day and for a week thereafter, at the Northwood Shopping Center, according to an account in The Afro-American newspaper.

Helena S. Hicks, an octogenarian civil rights activist and historian and one of only two still-living former students who took part, recalls the downtown incident a bit differently.

Dr. Hicks remembers it not as being planned at all, but rather as a spontaneous protest of a group of five young women and two young men who were waiting on Howard Street in the bitter January cold for the No. 3 bus to take them to Morgan. She says she only really wanted a cup of tea and found it ridiculous that she and her schoolmates couldn’t be served one while waiting in the warmth of the store for the next bus to come along.

Demonstrations at the Northwood Read’s reportedly continued into the next week, according to The Afro, before the drugstore chain announced – likely on Fri., Jan. 14 — that it would serve both Blacks and whites at its 37 stores where food and drink was offered.

The Sun barely acknowledged it, except in passing, in a story datelined Jan. 17, in which the Maryland Commission on Interracial Problems and Relations urged that steps be taken towards the smooth integration of public schools, in the wake of the Brown v. Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court eight months earlier. The article went on to mention that the commission chairman “disclosed 37 stores in the Read drug chain are now serving both Negroes and whites.”

One down for the Morgan students.

Protests also had taken place at the Hecht’s Rooftop Restaurant, as well as the Northwood Theatre, both of which refused entry to Blacks, but these two establishments would prove tougher nuts to crack.

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Protests begin anew at the Northwood Theatre a few weeks later, when on April 29, 1955, roughly 150 demonstrators — most of them Black students from Morgan, but a few whites from Johns Hopkins University — attempted to gain entry to movies, in what they described to the press as a display of “passive resistance.”

As the demonstrators — who identified themselves as members of the Social Action Committee — lined up to buy tickets for the film, “Untamed,” the seller posted two signs in the booth:

“Until the Motion Picture Theater Owners of Maryland, of which this theater is a member, and the courts of Maryland advise otherwise, this theater reserves the exclusive right to select its patronage.”

The second sign read: “Please refrain from any activity that might require police action.”

The cops just looked on.

Twice, the Northwood’s owners agreed to sit down with members of their trade group, the state’s interracial commission and the students to discuss “the Jim Crow problem” — and twice they backed out, The Afro reported.

At one point, the head of the theater owners trade group told The Afro: “Unless the students stop the demonstrations at the Northwood, come hell or high water, we won’t do a damned thing.”

The protests resumed.

The next week, an estimated 300 demonstrators, including 50 from Hopkins, appeared for an early evening show.

“Donnez-moi un ticket,” they asked at the ticket booth, according to The Sun.

“No admittance,” came the reply from the theater manager.

A Hopkins sophomore told The Sun that the students were not organized, but were responding to a letter Morgan students published in the campus newspaper, The Johns Hopkins News-Letter.

Two police inspectors, a captain, a sergeant and two patrolmen stood by and watched what The Afro had started describing as a “stand-in.”

As the demonstrations entered their sixth week, a white Hopkins sophomore was arrested, charged and found guilty of disorderly conduct and assault, for pushing a detective who tried to pull him out of the picket line — two convictions that were overturned on appeal.

That, however, was about as overtly contentious as it got.

1959: Ice cream for all

By March 1959, in addition to the Northwood Theatre and Hecht’s Rooftop Restaurant, the students had trained their sights on the Arundel Ice Cream fountain in the shopping center.

More than 400 protesters had turned out March 13, 1959, for a demonstration at Northwood Shopping Center pulled together by the Civic Interest Group (CIG), an activist association made up primarily of Morgan students.

When demonstrators returned the next day, “No Trespassing” and “Private Property” signs had been posted, and on the advice of legal counsel, they stood down, The Afro reported in its March 17 local edition.

The protests were put on temporary hold, The Afro said, pending discussions between the shopping center management, Urban League, CORE and the state interracial commission, and an unsung hero as adviser to so many Baltimore-area protests, Robert B. Watts, an activist lawyer who would later be named to the city circuit bench.

But star power provided inspiration to the Morgan protesters the following Monday, when more than 400 students heard Daisy Bates, president of the Arkansas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), speak at the college.

“I am proud of you because you are on the right track,” Bates said to thunderous applause. “You have a right at an early age to decide what type of world to live in.”

Bates had been at the center of the 1957 Little Rock Nine plan to integrate Central High School in that city.

Lillie Carroll Jackson, head of the Baltimore NAACP, underscored Bates’ comments, urging the students to return to the cause, The Afro reported.

“Get up on the picket line,” she told the crowd. “Let the world know you’re willing to die for democracy.”

The students did, and picketing returned that week. By Wednesday, Arundel Ice Cream, which had a chain of citywide outlets, had caved and welcomed the Morgan students.

Another one down.

That left Hecht’s second-floor Rooftop Restaurant and the Northwood Theatre.

1960: Hecht’s next

By mid-March the following year, just weeks after the Greensboro, N.C., sit-in, the Northwood protests were back in the news, when some 300 students lined up at the shopping center in an effort to break the grip of Jim Crow on two remaining businesses.

On March 15, 1960, about 100 protesters – mostly Morgan students — sat for an hour in Hecht’s Rooftop Restaurant after being refused service, while another 25 students picketed in front of the Northwood Theatre, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

The messages on some of the placards read: “Must Northwood Be Southward?”; “We’re Together in Wartime, Why Not in Peacetime?”; and “Why Not Equality For All Americans?”

The anti-segregationists dug in. They came back every day, more determined than the day before.

On the fourth day of protests, the Hecht’s restaurant manager and a Morgan student were arrested for assault in two minor pushing incidents, but the charges were later dropped. The restaurant closed its doors after the arrests, reopening the next day.

Walter R. Dean Jr. Maryland State Archives photo

Two days later, on Sunday, March 20, four sit-in protesters were arrested at the restaurant on trespassing charges, including Walter R. Dean Jr., a Morgan student who would become editor of the college newspaper, The Spokesman. (Dean, later a teacher, was a three-term delegate to the Maryland House of Delegates, representing Northwest Baltimore in the 1970s and ‘80s).

On Friday, lawyers for Hecht-May Co., as the owner of the department store chain was then known, went to court, seeking injunctive relief. Judge Joseph Allen granted a temporary ban on unrestricted picketing at Hecht’s Northwood, limiting it to two pickets at a time at the entrance to the restaurant.

The following Saturday, as Watts entered not guilty pleas and requested a jury trial in Northeastern Police Court for Dean and the three other Morgan students, groups of protesters organized by CIG and now including 30 city ministers descended on downtown Baltimore’s four major department stores — each of which had a restaurant that refused Blacks.

Faced with a small army of protesters — some carrying signs that read “Don’t Buy Where Your Brother Can’t Eat” — Hochschild, Kohn & Co. finally opened its doors, becoming the only one of the downtown department stores to serve them, local newspapers reported.

Hecht-May posted private detectives at the entrances to its downtown store eatery, denying entry to Blacks, while Stewart & Co. simply closed its restaurant to all. About 20 Black protesters entered the Tea Room at Hutzler Brothers Co. and stayed for roughly three hours, but were never served.

The student-led protests were gaining in momentum. Aided by the addition of the ministers and other respected groups, pressure was building on the department stores.

In the three weeks that followed, Albert D. Hutzler Jr., president of the family-owned store that carried his surname, met privately with Watts, Furman L. Templeton, executive director of the Urban League, David L. Glenn, his assistant, along with four Morgan students.

Finally, Hutzler agreed April 16 to admit Blacks to its store restaurants, effective immediately.

A Hecht-May Co. vice-president was surprised to learn about Hutzler’s decision from a Sun reporter, who asked if his company would follow suit.

“Our policy is to follow the will of the community and of our competitors,” he said. “If Hutzler’s is now admitting Negroes, we will also.”

And with that decision, Hecht’s Northwood Rooftop Restaurant opened its doors to all, and the charges against Dean and his fellow students were later dismissed.

Meanwhile, while not directly linked to Northwood Shopping Center demonstrations, the following footnote involving CIG is no insignificant event along the long civil rights trail in Baltimore.

On June 17, 1960, Robert Mack Bell, a 16-year-old junior at Dunbar High School, was among 12 students charged with trespassing, when they attempted to integrate Hooper’s Restaurant in downtown Baltimore. Members of the group, organized by CIG, were found guilty of trespassing for their sit-in protest. Their convictions were upheld on appeal.

Robert M. Bell, the former chief judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals. Maryland State Archives photo

Bell’s name was first alphabetically on the list of those charged, and thus the case was known by his name, including when Bell v. Maryland went to the U.S. Supreme Court as a challenge to the state’s trespass law.

In its June 22, 1964, ruling, the Supremes took a walk on the constitutionality of the trespass statute as it applied to serving Blacks, remanding it to the Maryland Court of Appeals to reconsider the case in light of the city and state’s then-recently approved public accommodations laws.

In turn, the state’s highest court upheld the convictions, but then a month later, after a petition for reconsideration, quietly reversed them, finally clearing the charges against the students — nearly five years after they were arrested.

Bell would go on to become Maryland’s first African American chief judge on the Court of Appeals.

1963: Northwood Theatre refuses still

The civil rights movement nationally had accelerated into high gear by 1963, when Morgan students took a another publicly visible run at the intractable management of the Northwood Theatre in an effort to gain access.

They knew it would not be an easy fight.

It came, ironically, or not, the week after Mrs. Hattie Louise Carroll, 51, a Black waitress and mother of 11, died hours after being struck with a 5/8-inch toy carnival cane and cursed by a drunken William D. Zantzinger, 24, son of a white, wealthy Southern Maryland tobacco farmer, during a society ball at the Emerson Hotel in downtown Baltimore.

The Feb. 9 incident was a lightning rod among members of Baltimore’s Black community, a high-profile reminder of a criminal justice system stacked against them.

Zantzinger’s initial first-degree murder charge was reduced to manslaughter by Baltimore officials, and the trial moved to Washington County at the defense request. Ultimately he would be found guilty of manslaughter and assault by a three-judge panel in Hagerstown — a case prosecuted in part by a young David K. Poole Jr., then Washington County’s state’s attorney and father of D. Bruce Poole, later the Maryland House majority leader.

In the end, Zantzinger was sentenced to six months in jail and fined $500.

Bob Dylan memorialized the events in a song, “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” a slightly exaggerated version of the tragic facts of the case that became an anthem, among many, for the civil rights movement, once released on an album the following year.

Whatever their motivation, the protesters were resolute – and organized – on Feb. 15, 1963, when they assembled to take on the Northwood Theatre.

At about 6:30 on a bitter cold Friday evening, roughly 70 protesters – mostly Morgan students – landed outside the theater. Once they did, management closed down the box office, which fronted on the shopping center promenade, and moved ticket sales inside to the lobby.

Sponsored again by CIG, the protesters launched a two-pronged attack: While one group picketed outside, a smaller group, expecting to be arrested, would go inside and attempt to purchase tickets.

Almost on cue, once the demonstrators entered the lobby, the theater manager read them the trespass law. When they refused to leave, the arrests began, police told The Sun.

Picketing outside the theater continued unhindered, as the police took 26 protesters – 17 young women and nine young men – into custody and shuttled them over to the nearby Northeastern District lockup. They were charged with disorderly conduct and after spending the night behind bars, each was released the next day on their own recognizance, after requesting jury trials.

Undeterred by the threat of jail, demonstrators returned to protest at the theater throughout the weekend, resulting in another 42 arrests on trespassing and disorderly conduct charges.

On Monday, more than 300 protesters, mostly Morgan students, showed up outside the theater, and again, as a line of picketers marched outside, others, lining up in an orderly fashion, entered and attempted to buy tickets. The trespass act was read by the theater manager. And again the arrests by the police began, 20 at a time.

This time, however, the crowd of alleged trespassers was significantly larger than in the past, and with more than 150 demonstrators arrested – far more than could be accommodated at any one district station, the police department’s No. 2 man was called to the scene.

The chief inspector decided that the men in custody should be ferried in patrol wagons to the Northeastern District lockup and the women over to the Eastern. Some of those arrested early in the process had been taken downtown to the old Pine Street Station lockup for women and juveniles, once the Western District police station, just outside the city’s central business district.

By 11 p.m., the chief judge of the old Municipal Court, T. Barton Harrington (once speaker of the House of Delegates), Joseph G. Finnerty, the judge assigned to district, and Police Commissioner Bernard J. Schmidt all had shown up at the Northeastern station house, but refused to answer questions from the press.

The protests were clearly overtaxing anything the system had ever seen – or considered – before.

By Tuesday, February 19, this test of private property rights and trespassing over access to what many believed to be public accommodations – a law guaranteeing that was still off in the future — had become a bit of a cause celebre at the Northwood Theatre.

Black and white students from Morgan, Hopkins and Goucher College, ministers, priests, rabbis, college professors, all swarmed the shopping center in the next two days. Pickets lined up outside City Hall downtown, demanding change.

CIG leaders sent telegrams to Mayor Philip H. Goodman and Commissioner Schmidt, asking for their help in desegregating the theater.

The Afro’s 5-Star edition Tuesday underscored the significance of the moment by topping its report on the week’s turbulent events with this “Editor’s Note”: “The byline on this story reads Ralph Matthews Jr., George W. Collins, Wilbur Pender and Walter R. Dean, all of whom were asked to cover this story because of its importance.”

Their main piece began, “Only in America, only in a state such as Maryland, could 218 well-behaved students be arrested and jailed for wanting to go to the movies.”

Yet, again the police were called to arrest the “trespassers,” and again, they were hauled off in patrol wagons. The Sun reported 151 were arrested Tuesday, another 130 or so on Wednesday, as the city police riot squad stood by and watched warily.

Protesters couldn’t make bail set by Judge Finnerty, who had raised the bond from $100 to $600 for each of those arrested and charged, and the lockups overflowed with demonstrators. There was word on the street was that the local NAACP had turned to William L. “Little Willie” Adams, a wealthy former city numbers baron turned businessman, for help with what was at one point an estimated quarter-million dollars in bails.

At the General Assembly, meeting in Annapolis, one Eastern Shoreman introduced a resolution decrying the protests, condemning the “mass assemblies to coerce private property owners to do business with certain individuals.”

Another Shore senator had a bill drafted to expel from colleges receiving state aid any student convicted of trespassing as a result of participating in demonstrations against racial discrimination.

Mayor Goodman huddled in closed-door meetings at City Hall with the principals, including State’s Attorney William J. O’Donnell, in an effort to strike a deal to desegregate and defuse the situation.

The next morning, Thursday, February 21, spread across four columns of The Sun’s local page was a photograph of sheer bedlam at the well-overcrowded women’s section of Baltimore City Jail, where women inmates looked down from the upper tiers onto lines of protesters being checked in.

“74 Arrested, Crowd Grows In Northwood,” was the headline on The Sun story that the photo accompanied. “Protest Of Segregation In 6th Day; Mayor In 2-Hour Talk.”

That morning, among the inmates at City Jail were 343 Northwood protesters, Black and white, men and women, most of them students from Morgan, Hopkins and Goucher.

By mid-afternoon of a second day of behind-the-scenes meetings and conversations involving the police, judiciary, state’s attorney’s office, CIG members, students, their legal adviser, Bob Watts, and the theater management, Mayor Goodman emerged from City Hall with an announcement to the pickets outside.

If the protesters stopped demonstrations at the Northwood Theatre, the management would allow Blacks into the movies, beginning at 1 p.m. the following, Friday, February 22, Goodman told them.

Done.

Six days of mass protests finally had broken the back of the theater’s management – eight full years after the students first took up the cause.

At about the same time the theater owners agreed to integrate, a judge ordered charges dropped against more than 300 student protesters and their release from City Jail.

As CIG negotiators gave the news of the settlement to the women protesters at City Jail, they greeted the news with screams and tears, hugging each other and jumping up and down, news outlets reported.

The next day, on the coldest Washington’s Birthday on record to that point in Baltimore, 23 African Americans, some of them the former protesters, quietly bought tickets at the Northwood Theatre and watched “In Search of the Castaways,” a Disney flick advertised as “An Avalanche of Adventure” starring Maurice Chevalier and Hayley Mills.

There was no trouble.

The Afro spoke for the community in celebrating the win – and it was a big win, both in symbol and actuality. The theater’s caving under pressure not only opened its doors, but spelled the end of the whites-only policy still in place at an estimated 60 percent of theaters around Baltimore.

“Morgan students triumph as 8-year rebellion ends” was one of The Afro headlines.

The newspaper published extra copies of the “Historical Northwood Story,” available to readers sending their names and addresses and 15 cents. “We Will Do The Rest,” the paper’s Page 1 house ad read.

In one of its editions, there were two full pages featuring photos by the paper’s I. Henry Phillips of the protests, the arrests, the lines inside the jail, and finally the students being released. One of the photo pages appeared under the headline “‘We Shall Overcome,’ They Sang — And Did.”

By the end of the battle, there were dozens of players involved in resolving the problem and dozens of factors at play, but at the core was the students. The Afro wrote an unbylined recap for its March 2 Blue Streak Edition that included a string of quotes from some of the principals in the protests and subsequent negotiations, but it concluded by giving credit where it was deserved.

“Thus the Northwood Story ends. A story which dates back to 1955. Its heroes? Students of Morgan State College.”

Through the lens of white Baltimore

A few years ago, I tutored in a so-called “5th Quarter” summer program at a private middle school for underserved boys, formerly known as underprivileged or disadvantaged boys, in Baltimore. I had done it before, and each summer featured a major project, different every year. The particular year in question involved each boy researching his neighborhood and ultimately writing a paper about it.

One of the boys lived in Northwood and in discussing that neighborhood before the class, which was primarily African-American, I mentioned that the shopping center there once had a movie theater, and that said movie theater was segregated when I was a boy. In fact, I told them, within just weeks of the theater’s being desegregated – after years of protests by Morgan students and others – my Grandmother Fannon took me and my brother Patrick to see “Son of Flubber” there.

The other adult in the room – an actual teacher – was barely able to control his laughter at my invoking “Flubber,” which of course had come and gone before he was even born. It was more the word “Flubber,” than the actual movie, that did him in.

Nevertheless, it seemed to me, as a casual observer, like an important thing to know about one’s neighborhood – the segregated part, the demonstrations part, not the Flubber part. Alas, the boyos seemed far and away more interested in Flubber.

This was the same summer I was talking with the boys about slavery, and one of them, genuinely curious, asked, “Well, if it was so bad at the one place, why didn’t the slave just move to another plantation?”

Thankfully, but unbelievably, the entire segregation matter seemed so foreign to them. They face a different version of racism now, some of it less overt, but all of it just as virulent.

These one-time middle-schoolers would be in college now, some of them maybe even at Morgan, up there in Northwood. I am confident that a bunch of them have been demonstrating in the streets in the last few weeks.

–0–

Memory is a tricky thing.

Would we three have gone to see “Flubber” at the Northwood Theatre, had it not been integrated? After all, there were other nearby theaters in Baltimore showing that piece of celluloid brilliance. I’d like to say, no, we would not have gone, but honestly, I don’t know.

I come from a world of privilege, not because of my station, but rather because of the color of my skin, a simple – some would say lucky — accident of birth.

It is impossible for me to know what it feels like to be a Black man in a white world. I can guess, I can imagine, I can empathize, but I will never really know.

I didn’t know all that then, not really. I was just a kid when the Northwood Theatre was integrated, and my little, insular life seemed so simple. Yet, on some level, I knew something was wrong. The memory of “Flubber” and the theater’s integration would not have flooded over me in that middle school classroom if something didn’t register lo those many years ago – the same way it struck me, and stuck with me, when my school’s year-end picnic to whites-only Gwynn Oak Park had been called off under orders by Archbishop Lawrence J. Shehan.

(Shehan, who had not yet been elevated to cardinal, had declared the amusement park off limits to 25 parochial schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, after he realized in the spring of 1962 that teachers had to tell the 1,500 to 2,000 black children in the Catholic schools that they could not attend the picnics. At the time, it was big news: The AP story on his ban appeared in newspapers across the nation.)

But that “wrongness” of what was going on — with all the talk of integration and segregation — did not come more clearly into focus for another three years, when my father drove Pat and me past a civil rights demonstration on North Calvert Street.

Members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), along with some city ministers and others, were demonstrating in May 1966 against a whites-only rental policy outside the new, 18-story Horizon House apartment building, on the northeast corner of Calvert and Chase streets.

A counter-demonstration was also staged there, however, one run by members of the Ku Klux Klan, in full robed regalia, and the Fighting American Nationalists (FAN), a small white-supremacist group whose leader was running for governor of Maryland that year.

The city cops were charged with keeping the peace.

It was there that I really witnessed the snarling face of hate for the first time, when I saw members of the KKK parading in person. It was terrifying, as it was intended to be.

Even as a kid, I knew about the Klan, had been told about it, read newspaper accounts of its activity, had looked at photographs and news footage of the torches and cross-burnings, but seeing those hooded heads live was another story.

I so clearly remember the Klan leader, in a red and green satin robe and hood, leading a a couple dozen rank-and-file Klan marchers – and a few Klanswomen, too, as I recall — dressed in their traditional white, ghostlike gowns.

My father was a Yankee from a small burgh north of the Mason-Dixon Line – back when such things still mattered — and was appalled at conditions and behaviors down South, here in the Monumental City, decades before Baltimore became Charm City.

He wanted us to see this. He wanted us to know that these hooded people – “cowards,” he called them, hiding behind costumes — were bad men (and women), and he assured us, as if to assuage his sons’ childhood anxiety, that they would never prevail, not in these United States.

It was not a voyeuristic trip, any more than his taking us both on a run of the No. 8 streetcar up York Road to Towson and back on the line’s last full day in existence, Nov. 2, 1963, before trolleys stopped running on the streets of Baltimore.

This was more than something to do on the weekend. These were teachable moments, as they say nowadays, something intended to last in our memories.

Yet, it was easy for us, after crossing paths with these moments of history, no matter how small, to fade back into the anonymity of our world, without having to defend ourselves against it.

‘Problem of the color line’

This piece was begun before the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, before demonstrators, in a spontaneous display, took to the streets all across this nation, and before the White House growled about sending the U.S. military to squelch lawful protests in a shameless and, at best, constitutionally questionable display of chest pounding.

Protesters gathered outside of Baltimore City Hall in a call to defund the police department last month. Photo by Hannah Gaskill

Fifty years ago, it was the wild-eyed Communist troublemakers and anarchists to blame for the unrest; now, it’s wild-eyed Antifa troublemakers and anarchists.

Maybe it’s just regular old people, taxpayers, citizens, saying enough is enough.

We tend to believe that the worst racism was in the Deep South and in the East, areas with a deep history of slavery.

Maybe that is why the long record of abuses against the African American community in Minnesota surprised some on the East Coast when Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis trained the national spotlight on the history of racially charged police behaviors there.

But it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. There’s nothing geographically specific about racism in the republic.

In 1938, Clarence M. Mitchell Jr., who would later be the NAACP lobbyist known as the 101st senator for his work on Capitol Hill during the Civil Rights era, left Baltimore to be the first executive director of the Urban League in St. Paul, Minn.

Mitchell, for whom the Baltimore City Circuit Courthouse is named, headed West when the Twin City Urban League split into separate chapters to deal with increasing volume of racial problems in both St. Paul and, across the Mississippi River, in Minneapolis.

He returned to Baltimore that September to marry Juanita E. Jackson, another activist in her own right, later an NAACP lawyer, and after a honeymoon, went back to St. Paul with his young bride.

In fact, their son, Clarence M. Mitchell III, the late Maryland state senator from West Baltimore, was born in St. Paul the following year, before the family eventually moved back East.

–0–

“The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line,” W.E.B. Du Bois declared in his seminal work, “The Souls of Black Folk.”

He wrote that in 1903, as a dark veil of hate hung heavy over Jim Crow America. More than a century later, it is just as true now.

The simple fact is, we never figured out the race question or resolved the inequities that are inherent in a society shaped by slavery. Our collective national soul remains stained by that original sin.

Du Bois was a writer, sociologist and historian, the Pan Africanist leader of the Niagara Movement, an early civil rights group, a founder of its successor organization, the NAACP, and the editor of its journal, The Crisis.

He himself lived for awhile in Morgan Park, just behind the then-college, in the once-vilified “Negro colony” east of Hillen Road where he had bought a home just after World War II.

A controversial and outspoken socialist, he was targeted by the government as a Communist during the McCarthy era, leading him to threaten to renounce his American citizenship and eventually move to Africa.

He died in Ghana at 95 on Aug. 27, 1963, just six months after the integration of Northwood Theatre — and the day before Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington. They honored his passing with a moment of silence there.

That day, Aug. 28, 1963, Billy Zantzinger was sentenced in the death of Hattie Carroll, and the Gwynn Oak Park in Baltimore County dropped its whites-only policy, finally admitting Blacks.

The date also was exactly eight years to the day after 14-year-old Emmett Till, a Black 14-year-old from Chicago, was so brutally murdered in Money, Miss., for whistling at a white woman, a particularly ugly moment that many believe marked the unofficial start of the modern civil rights movement.

“The world is moving at a terrific rate,” A. Philip Randolph, the civil rights and labor leader who headed the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, had told a group of Morgan students at a rally before a Northwood protest in 1960.

“In an age like this, you can’t wait for your rights,” The Afro reported Randolph as saying. “If we can’t get them now, it won’t be long before the world passes you by.”

So, that age is upon us again, with a vengeance. And again it is the young who are at the fore, leading us forward into the fight, like it or not. It seems only fitting that the Northwood Shopping Center is now coming down and a new development geared to the university constructed in its place.

Photo by William F. Zorzi

Northwood’s history is, at the least, a footnote in Baltimore’s civil rights struggle, one worth considering.

We didn’t need to stop demolition. Don’t need a legislative resolution of condemnation and regret. No landmark designation or monument. No plaque or banner, no ceremony or moment of silence. No flagpole or prayer garden.

This is not the hanging tree in Princess Anne.

This is not an earthen dam in Neshoba County, Miss.

This is not the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

This is not the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

This is not the Lorraine Motel.

This was just a shopping center.

But we do need to remember, if only for one last instant, what went on here. It is a reminder of how far we’ve come – and how very far we have to go.

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William F. Zorzi
Bill Zorzi was a Baltimore Sun reporter and editor for nearly 20 years, focusing on government and politics. An Annapolis bureau veteran, he wrote a weekly column, “The Political Game” for the paper.Zorzi and another former Sun reporter, David Simon, are longtime collaborators on acclaimed television projects, including the HBO series, “The Wire,” and the HBO miniseries “Show Me a Hero,” which dealt with an explosive housing desegregation case in Yonkers, NY.