Aberdeen resident and longtime civil rights activist Janice Grant made a successful last-ditch effort to stop the city from demolishing her family's 84-year-old house, which she says is historically significant.
Grant rounded up supporters and got a court injunction to stop the demolition, just as a bulldozer was set to tear down the home, in the 400 block of Edmund Street, early Monday morning.
The injunction is the latest round in a more than decade-long battle between Grant and the City of Aberdeen over the house, which has been vacant for years and which city officials say poses a public safety risk.
Built in 1930, the home gained prominence when Grant's aunt, who lived there during the Great Depression, helped feed and care for the area's poor and homeless people.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt stopped by the home on her way to visit Aberdeen Proving Ground, according to Grant.
In addition, "during the Civil Rights era, the home was used by the NAACP for organizing meetings," Grant's attorney Aisha Braveboy, a state delegate from Prince George's County, said. "That is really significant because you know in Maryland, we have an unfortunate history of slavery and lynching."
"This home has been pretty significant over the last century," Braveboy said.
Grant, 80, and her husband, Woodrow, 76, don't live in the house, which the City of Aberdeen first condemned in 2004 and then relented on demolishing when the Grants said they were going to renovate the structure to house Christian missionaries, according to a Baltimore Sun story from December 2004.
Since then, the two sides have gone back and forth over the property. In November, according to a document obtained from the city Monday, the city's Unsafe Building Committee ruled the house was in violation of the city code "because it is unsafe, in danger of collapse and is unfit for human habitation." Committee members are listed as Henry Trabert, the police chief, City Manager Douglas Miller and Planning and Community Development Director Phyllis Grover.
The Grants were given until March 16 to complete significant improvements to the structure, or the city would tear it down and place a lien on the property "for expenses incurred," according to the document.
Grant appeared before the panel on Nov. 14, 2013, and "recounted some of her efforts to rehabilitate the structure," according to the document. She also brought in a local contractor, who "acknowledged that the structure was in danger of collapse but that he could make the existing framework safe for about $50,000. He further offered to fully restore the structure and that such cost would be $400,000.
In a dramatic scene Monday morning, Baltimore activist the Rev. Cortly "C.D." Witherspoon Sr., president of the Baltimore chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and his wife, Sherelle, held the bulldozer crew at bay, threatening to sue the city, until Trabert got word from Harford County Circuit Court Judge William Carr informing him of the injunction to halt the demolition.
Trabert arrived on the scene to "keep the peace" and ensure everyone's safety, he said.
Witherspoon, a church minister, said the building might be one of the oldest houses in the immediate area.
"This is the county's history, too," he noted.
Grant, who has been active in the civil rights movement locally and nationally, including taking part in the 1963 March on Washington, had sent a mass e-mail asking her supporters "to surround the house and lock arms" until Woodrow Grant could tell them from Bel Air the injunction was filed.
"Save our black history and our historic home," Grant asked in the e-mail.
On Monday morning, police and the bulldozer arrived just as Grant left briefly to settle more legal matters about the house, shortly before 8 a.m.