"The college was constantly being threatened with reductions of funds," said Gibson, a Howard University alumnus who, at 70, is a contemporary of the former Northwood protesters.

"The president at one point called an assembly to tell the students, 'I have been told to tell you all to stop,' but everyone knew he didn't mean it."

Indeed, faculty members at Morgan and other colleges openly supported the students. Two history professors at Morgan, Sherman Merrill and the late Augie Meier, the adviser to the school's segregation-fighting Civic Interest Group, are remembered in particular by the activists.

Merrill, now 83, was a graduate student at Hopkins in the 1950s when he watched from the Hecht's rooftop restaurant as picketers demonstrated outside the theater.

"I wanted to integrate that picket line," he said, "because if it was all black people, the white people didn't give a damn."

Now living in Vermont, Merrill is actually biracial — his mother, who died in childbirth, was a light-skinned black woman — but he "passes" as white.

Merrill said he always had black friends and was incensed when they would be denied entry to places where he was welcomed.

Joining the picket line, he did indeed draw attention — from police officers, who arrested him and roughed him up, Merrill said.

He remembers the protests in personal terms.

"I find it difficult to talk about because to me, I wasn't fighting for any cause. I was fighting my cause: I can go any damned place with my black friends," he said. "I'm not a hero, but I'd do it all over again, even with some bullneck beating me up."

The integration of the Northwood Theatre came during a particularly active year for civil rights. On one day that August, the merry-go-round at Gwynn Oak Park allowed its first black riders just as hundreds of thousands marched on Washington to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

Still to come, though, were the more violent battles against police brutality; the fight for fairer voting and housing laws, and the turbulence of 1968, with its assassinations and urban riots.

Sands, who had participated in the early demonstrations at Northwood when he was an undergraduate at Morgan in the 1950s, returned after serving in the Army to see that the effort was coming to fruition. Yet there was a sense of even tougher battles ahead.

"It was wonderful to see. The time for Northwood had come," said Sands, who was a student government president and an ROTC commander on campus. "You could see, though, the kind of anguish that was growing in the black community about core matters, where we would be able to buy homes, respect from police.

"We expected the line would move, to places we were not at all prepared for," he said. "The riots, the cities burning. The opposition — they became better organized."

Sands saw the neighborhood surrounding Morgan State go from white during his school years — "homeowners would call the police if you stepped on their lawn" — to black.

But he said white flight and those who exploited racial fears by "block-busting" masked the broad and continuing support for civil rights.

Sands said the pace of change is gradual.

"It all becomes part of the broader picture," he said. "We'll get around to having the things we first fought for."

The Northwood shopping center has seen better days. Not only did the theater close in 1981, but many of the retail outlets have similarly come and gone. In 2007, former City Councilman Kenneth Harris was shot to death after visiting the New Haven jazz club.

But now, in something of a circle being closed, the shopping center should receive a boost. Morgan State broke ground in November for a $72 million business school on a tract of land next to the shopping center.

The hope is that the school will lead to new cafes and businesses, drawing students and faculty as customers, rather than protesters.

That prospect draws a smile from Gibson.

"Time," he said, "changes things."

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

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