Things have changed since the 1950s, when a white woman wouldn't allow Mildred Hughes' daughter to sit next to hers on a carnival ride inWestminster.

The woman made the ride operator take Hughes' daughter off.

But Hughes stood up to the woman, who, she said, dressed herself and her daughter sloppily.

"I told her, 'I'm glad she (my daughter) got off, so she doesn't get a germ from your child,' " said Hughes, now 70 and living on Union Street in Westminster in the same neighborhood in which she grew up.

Some whites still might feel the way that woman did about black people, but laws today wouldn't allow themto force a child off a ride, keep her from attending a certain school or otherwise discriminate against her because of her color.

Whenasked about racism they have encountered, blacks in Carroll County often say they haven't had much of a problem. But before the conversation ends, they usually remember incidents they had put in the backs of their minds.

"A lot of the racism is very subtle, and as a blackperson, you just sort of overlook it, or it becomes a personal challenge to you," said Virginia Harrison, 44, of Eldersburg. The owner ofa home-based dressmaking and alteration business, Harrison serves onthe Community Relations Commission, a panel that mediates discrimination complaints.

Harrison has faced both subtle and overt racism. When she was 11, in 1958, she remembers stepping aside as a courtesy to let two white men pass her on a sidewalk in Baltimore. As he passed, one of the men said to her, "You better move," and spit on her.

"I decided right then I wasn't moving for anybody again," Harrison said.

She said she suspected more subtle discrimination when she and her husband were buying their home 14 years ago. The agent, she said, tried to steer them away from the all-white development in which they were looking.

It is a violation of federal law for agents to discuss the racial make-up of neighborhoods. Harrison said the agent stopped short of actually breaking the law but steered them toward another Eldersburg development.

"I asked her, 'Do they have this samehouse in Carroll Square?'

She said, 'No.'

"I said, 'Then why would we want to look there?' " Harrison said.

Clarence Dorm, 65, remembers when all Westminster's black families lived either on Union Street or Charles Street, where he grew up. Blacks from throughout the county attended the nearby all-black Robert Moton High School until1965, when they were integrated into neighborhood schools.

In theearly 1970s, Dorm bought a house on Green Street in Westminster. Before he moved in, he said, the woman who sold him the house was harassed by her neighbors, who called her a "nigger lover."

"It didn't scare me. I just got right in and took over my house and made it a home," Dorm said. Later, the same white neighbors praised him for the way he kept up his house.

"Some people think just because you're black, you're going to let your house run down," said Dorm, who now lives on Western Chapel Road.

Until the late 1960s, he couldn't even sit on the main floor of Carroll's movie theaters, but he said he can't remember the last time he experienced racism.

"It's been a long time, and I thank God for it," he said.

But a young Westminster woman came up against racism last year for the first time, she said.

Andrea Mack, 22, lives with her cousin, Mildred Hughes, and is a junior at Western Maryland College. Last May, she said, a Westminster High School administrator called her a "nigger."

Mack was attending a Carroll Community College class when the administrator confronted her.

"He had a problem with how I parked my car at the high school.I guess it was blocking his car. He said, 'Nigger, get it out of there,' " Mack said.

She reported the incident to the Board of Education and the Community Relations Commission, on which she serves, and consulted a lawyer, but got nowhere, as the man denied making the epithet.

Brian Lockard, assistant superintendent for instruction, said he remembers the complaint. He said he couldn't imagine the administrator using the slur, but he suggested a meeting of all parties. He said he hasn't heard anything further about the incident.

Mack said she wants to drop the matter. She plans to leave Carroll County once she has her degree in business administration.

"I'll move to Owings Mills, or somewhere where there are real people, not a bunch of old people who are set in their own ways," Mack said. She said she'd feel the same way if she were white.

*Panel hears complaints

The Community Relations Commission was formed a year ago by a coalition of human service agencies. Several counties in the state have such commissions to resolve discrimination issues.

Unlike commissions in other counties, Carroll's panel has no enforcement power. However, it could receive such authority later as it develops, said Chairman Richard D. Bucher, 40, of Mount Airy. The panel now mediates disputes over discrimination based on race, disability, gender, age, religion, ethnicity or marital status.

When the panel can't mediate a dispute tothe satisfaction of participants, it refers the matter to the Maryland Human Relations Commission. That public agency can enforce anti-discrimination laws with fines or payment of back wages. But one drawback is the delay -- sometimes of three years.

Carroll's Community Relations Commission heard 16 complaints -- two of them race-related -- in 1990. Most complaints dealt with access for the disabled, Buchersaid, which usually involves visible evidence. Racism is much harderto prove, he said.

"Sometimes you go on a person's account of what happened, and there are disagreements. Two people might see it differently," Bucher said.

Bucher would not discuss specific cases forconfidentiality reasons, but confirmed that one involved Mack's complaint of verbal harassment. The other involved a parent's claim that a public employee had discriminated against her son. The commission referred the parent to the national NAACP for legal advice. Bucher said the parent has since told him the discrimination was corrected.

"Without enforcement power, we have to rely on the good faith of the people involved," he said. In such cases, the discrimination is inadvertent, and the offender agrees to change his or her behavior. "That's why some people prefer to seek legal counsel.

"Also, we can bring to the person's attention that if they do not reach an agreement, the person (making the complaint) has the option to take it to the state," Bucher said.

Precious Morrison of Eldersburg is president of the Carroll chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She was in the last graduating class of Robert Moton, in 1965.

Before the Community Relations Commission was formed, about five or six blacks a year took their complaints to the local NAACP, usually over employment discrimination, she said, and usually after a person had been fired.

"Sometimes, after investigating, you can't say it's totally discrimination," Morrison said.

Some peoplewill never report incidents, Morrison said.

"People do not alwayswant to let other people know their problems," she said. "I don't know if it's fear of retaliation. We all know that hate groups do exist."

* The Klan in Carroll

The Ku Klux Klan reminded Carroll of its presence with a march in Taneytown as recently as January, with 25 robed members accompanied by a group of young people dressed in camouflage and carrying billy clubs and night sticks. The Klan also has regular meetings throughout the year at the farm of a member who lives outside Manchester, state police said.

As might be expected in a county whose latest census figures show only 2.4 percent of the residents are black, most of the power still is held by white males. Until Julia W. Gouge was elected in 1986, the county commissioners had all been white men. Gouge also is white.

Judges in Carroll also have been white males. There is one black officer on the Westminster police force. Two black troopers are based at the state police barracks in Westminster.

Three elected officials are black, the most influentialbeing Delegate Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll. Eugene Johnson serves onthe Sykesville Town Council, and Perry Jones Jr. has been on the Union Bridge Town Council for 10 years and is a mayoral candidate.

Jones, 38, said he has not encountered race-related problems during histenure on the council.

"I'm sure the problem exists," Jones said."But we've been pretty fortunate in Union Bridge. I've never heard anything racist or derogatory."

Dixon said he has heard very few complaints from constituents about racism or discrimination.

"I'm sort of a unique person to be answering questions (about racism) in Carroll," said Dixon, 52, who was born and raised here. "If we had any kind of serious problems in the county, I wouldn't have been elected."

Dixon said there are always going to be people who hate others because of race or religion.

"I think we have very few people like that," Dixon said. "It's not a real problem in Carroll.

"Our countyis unique," he said. "Those kinds of things do not happen in other counties in this state. Robert Moton Elementary is named after a blackman. Where else are you going to find a school named after a black man in a county that is predominantly white?"

* Schools don't track racism

Edwin L. Davis, Carroll's director of pupil services and special programs, said racist incidents are not something school officials categorize as they have done with truancy or disruptive behavior.

"I don't feel we ever had out-and-out blatant examples of racism," said Davis, who is white and a former Westminster High School principal. "There were times when students have expressed feelings of being mistreated, but whether or not that was a situation of racism or somebias is open to interpretation."

About 3 percent of the approximately 22,000 students who attend Carroll schools are members of minority races. About 2.2 percent of the more than 1,400 professional staffers are members of racial minority groups.

* Young teens show hope

A group of black and white East Middle School students who often gather downtown after school said they get no harassment for socializing and even dating each other.

Elise Laprade and David Chase, both 13 and black, have dated white teens with no disapproval from their parents or, as far as they know, from their dates' parents. Jason Mackie, 13 and white, said he encountered no problems when he dated a black girl.

Still, Elise said, a few of her friends ask her why she doesn't date David, implying they should stick to their own kind.

Both said they didn't mind being among the few black students in theirschool.

"Really, you get used to it," Elise said.

But there are a few students who call them names. David, who is very quiet, looked down modestly as his friends teased him about the time he hit another boy who called him a "nigger." Elise said she and some friends were ready to fight a girl who used to bother her the first three monthsof this school year.

Jason and other white students sitting with Elise and David said it bothers them when other whites exhibit racism. Most people, they said, are at least smart enough to keep racist feelings to themselves.

"It bugs me because I don't feel that way," Jason said. "It makes me feel they (racists) are going to bring us down with them."

Staff writer Greg Tasker contributed to this story

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