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Baltimore's late, great civil rights leader

On Saturday, Feb. 2, Baltimore memorialized the Rev. Vernon N. Dobson and recognized him as a giant in the history of the local civil rights struggle ("Civil rights leader founded BUILD," Jan. 27). Testimony was given of his efforts to desegregate Gwynn Oak Park in 1963, creation of the Maryland Food Bank in 1968 and, in the 1970s, the founding of Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development. He was lauded for his work in planning the 1963 March on Washington and his marching with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. in 1965. His name was placed in the pantheon of those who were pre-eminent in the civil rights movement such as Walter P. Carter, Parren Mitchell, Marion Bascom, Sam Green, Wendell Phillips, Chester Wickware and Sam Daniels. He got the recognition he so rightly deserves.

I was there, too, to hear the platitudes to his fearless and tireless leadership. But I was there with my own personal memories of what it was like to be a young black child trying to make sense of those times and how I was influenced by the man my friends and I called "The Rev."

The Rev was a towering figure to me at the time; he seemed much taller then than later in life. I can still remember the tension I felt whenever he came home to find me "hanging around" his daughters and their girlfriends. His glance had the effect of disrupting my breathing pattern, which I am sure he was aware of and was amused by. I can still feel the anxiety when he came home one night, looked at me and said, "Son, this is the new rule. When I'm not here, you're not here." It was all I could do to get the "yes, sir" out of my mouth.

But more than anything I will remember how he influenced me and the youth of the community to recognize and be aware of the social dynamics of being black in Baltimore. Not that we were oblivious to it since we lived in Ashburton during those turbulent times and blacks in Ashburton during the late 1950s and 1960s were few and far between. However, he taught us dignity, courage, and the fact that we owed it to those who came and sacrificed before us to be fearless, continue to speak up for ourselves and never let anyone treat us as second class citizens.

So I was there to recognize the man as legend but to say thanks for his love and mentoring.

Rest in peace, Rev.

Tyrone Hill, Baltimore

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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