February 16, 2007
1907 - 1990
House of Delegates: 1959 - 1963
State Senate: 1963 - 1982
Verda Freeman was born March 18, 1907, on a small farm in Lake Lure, N.C. She was the third of 16 children. When her mother died, she stayed in school by taking night classes so she could take care of her brothers and sisters during the day.
She came to Baltimore in 1929 and graduated three years later from Coppin Normal School with a teaching certificate. She earned a bachelor's degree in history from Morgan State College in 1939, and in 1943 completed a master's degree in history from New York University.
Freeman married Dr. Henry C. Welcome in 1935 and taught for 11 years in the Baltimore City public school system. Mrs. Welcome was active in neighborhood groups and was president of the Northwest Improvement Association. In the 1950s she was a pioneer in the fight to lower racial barriers in Maryland's public places.
Welcome, a Democrat, decided to run for the House of Delegates and was elected in 1959. She won by challenging the hand-picked candidates of the powerful Democratic machine in the Fourth Legislative District. Welcome was supported in her effort by a group of black women known as the Valiant Women, who spent long hours on Pennsylvania Avenue handing out literature and going door-to-door in the neighborhoods on her behalf.
Once she was elected to the General Assembly, she continued chipping away at racial obstacles. After experiencing segregation at a political convention, Welcome introduced a public accommodations law that opened Maryland's hotels and public places to all its citizens. In 1962, Welcome became the first African-American woman in the nation to be elected to a state Senate seat. In April 1964, she survived an assassination attempt.
One of her proudest legislative accomplishments was leading the fight to change Morgan State College to Morgan State University, a move that increased the school's prestige and funding. Welcome became a powerful member of Maryland's Senate Finance Committee and she worked for equal pay and equal work laws. In 1967, she was a force in getting rid of Maryland's interracial laws that dated back to the days of slavery.
Welcome received honorary doctorates from the University of Maryland, Howard University and Morgan State University. In her later years she became a mentor to a growing number of black legislators, both men and women.
Senator Welcome died April 22, 1990 in Baltimore.
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun