This week in Columbia's history: Fred Weaver becomes first African-American on Howard County board

This week in Columbia history: Pioneer Fred Weaver is first African-American on a HoCo board #columbia50

In March 1969, Howard County Executive Omar Jones appointed Columbia resident Fred Weaver to the county personnel board. The first African-American to be named to a county board, Weaver, 78, said he dedicated his service to diversifying the county's employees. His 10-year tenure, Weaver said, was an example of the many ways Columbia acted as a "catalyst" for the racial integration of Howard County.

Jones' decision to put Weaver on the personnel board was notable, Weaver said, because it was not what he calls the "traditional" appointment for African-Americans at the time, but allowed him to have an impact beyond racial issues.

Instead, Weaver said, he and his four colleagues on the personnel board were tasked with rewriting the county's personnel code, giving him influence to "bring about change county-wide." In 1968 the county voted to adopt a charter government, and Weaver helped write the county's first human resources code.

Weaver's team, which he says included a dairy farmer and a Howard County Times columnist, implemented early affirmative action policies in order to break up what he characterized as the "good old boy network."

They wrote rules, Weaver said, instructing county departments to interview three people for every vacancy, one of which had to be a minority. They also instituted an appeals process whereby employees and applicants could bring grievances before the personnel board; that process still exists today.

Weaver lived in Columbia for almost five decades, before retiring and moving to Sarasota, Fla., last year. Looking back on that time, Weaver considers the personnel board's efforts a success.

"I felt a great deal of pride," he said, "in facilitating moves that made it possible for minorities to begin to break up that whole network."

Today, said Weaver, the goal of integration in Howard County has been largely met, in no small part because of the ideals of Columbia's founder, James Rouse. Rouse's open housing policies — rare in the 1960s — attracted open-minded residents in the 1960s, "pioneers" like Weaver who wanted to live in an integrated community.

"We moved there to further a concept," said Weaver, "and that concept was racial and economic integration"; a concept, he says, that spread throughout what used to be a largely conservative, rural county. Weaver says the children of those Columbia pioneers today carry on the ideals of integration in the Howard County government.

Weaver, who is a descendant of the abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass, said he moved to Columbia in January 1968 to be a part of the region's shift towards integration.

"Whether [Rouse] was going to be able to pull it off or not, I wasn't sure, but I got caught up in the philosophy and the ideal of it," he said. "I wanted to be a part of the success of the place, and hold them accountable."

Weaver said he remembered thinking, "If we're going to do this, I want to make sure we get it right."

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