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Dayhoff: Carroll County’s NAACP chapter honors Jean and John Lewis for a lifetime of service

On Saturday, Jan. 25, the Carroll County Chapter of the NAACP hosted its annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast.

About 125 people gathered at Martin’s Westminster for singing and presentations celebrating the life and work of King. Richard Turner, the executive director of the Community Media Center in Carroll County, gave the keynote address at the breakfast.

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First Sgt. Rodney Morris, Maryland State Police (Retired), provided the opening remarks and introduced the master of ceremonies for the event, Dr. Pam Zappardino.

This year, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was celebrated on Jan. 20. The day was set aside as a federal holiday by President Ronald Reagan on Nov. 2, 1983. The holiday is held annually on the third Monday in January instead of on King’s birthday. He was born Jan. 15, 1929.

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The day commemorates the life and work of an American civil rights leader who was particularly active in promoting equal opportunities for African Americans from around 1955, when he led the Montgomery Alabama bus boycott, until he was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

A surprise in this year’s program occurred when much of the leadership of the Carroll County NAACP gathered on stage to give President Jean Lewis, and her husband, John Lewis, a lifetime achievement award for decades of leadership in the community. The award was a surprise.

According to a Feb. 14, 2007 article in the Westminster Advocate by Ashley Reams, “(Jean) Lewis took over as president of the organization December 21, 2006, after working in the background as what she called the face of the Carroll County NAACP for about four years. During that time, she represented the group as a board member of several service organizations in the county…”

Lewis informed those attending the breakfast that she has decided to make her current term in office as the president of the local branch of the NAACP, to be her last.

Her husband, John Lewis, is a past president of the local branch and considered by many to have been instrumental in reconstituting the local civil rights advocacy group in 1999 after it had faded in the late-1990s.

Both Jean and John Lewis served on a Community Focus Group for the City of Westminster from 1999-2005 (when this writer served as a council member and then as mayor), and were helpful in guiding the city through a series of leadership transitions during a time when a number of the city’s longstanding department directors retired. In particular, they played a critical part in the selection and hiring of Westminster Police Chief Jeff Spaulding.

This is not the first time that Jean and John Lewis have been recognized by the community. On March 30, 2015, Jean and John Lewis were recognized by the county’s Human Relations Commission for their contributions to the community at the 23rd annual awards dinner at the Zigler Conference Center at the Brethren Center in New Windsor.

At that time, Zappardino noted, “John’s life of 70-plus years has been spent working for civil rights. ... He grew up in a poor family of 12 in Johnsville, in southern Carroll County. He lived through the rumors of the Ku Klux Klan riding through his neighborhood. … He was the first president of the Carroll County Human Rights Commission and Task Force. This group worked to desegregate the county in the mid-1960s and ’70s. Its methods were simple. … There was no violence or arrests and he used what he called the ‘back-door approach talking’ to desegregate the county. … Because of this, he received many death threats…

“John attended the March on Washington, D.C. in 1963. … In 1964, he spoke before the Maryland General Assembly in support of the Public Accommodation Law.”

Meanwhile, getting back to the keynote speaker at the breakfast, in a recent Carroll County Times’ article, writer Jon Kelvey reported, “Turner has more than four decades of experience in television and media…” The working title of Turner’s presentation was, “Diversity in Media and the First Amendment.” We will take a look at Turner’s excellent presentation at the breakfast in a subsequent article. Meanwhile, keep in mind that Turner is the guest speaker for the Historical Society of Carroll County’s Box Lunch Talk at 12 noon on Feb. 17, at Grace Lutheran Church in Westminster. The topic of his presentation will be, “The Community Media Center’s Carroll County History Project.”

Times correspondent Kevin Dayhoff participated in the civil rights movement in North Carolina in the early 1970s and currently serves as the assistant secretary of the Carroll County branch of the NAACP.

Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

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