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Pennington's Passions


No one can deny that over the past decade, James R. Pennington brought racial issues to the table in Baltimore County. But in doing so, he'd sometimes knock the table to splinters.

The NAACP recently suspended Mr. Pennington from holding office for the next two years, following his 14-year tenure as head of its Baltimore County branch. It found him guilty of 13 infractions, mostly organizational missteps such as failing to hold regular meetings and money mismanagement. The association took 16 hours of testimony after a disgusted colleague filed a 35-page report against him.

The retired Army colonel wasn't a good organizational soldier, but he never shied from controversial issues. He pounded on the theme of improving the environment in county schools for black students. This was one of the reasons the school board hired a new school chief, Stuart Berger, who is viewed as more sensitive to minority students.

But often, Mr. Pennington seemed preoccupied with getting heads to roll rather than bridging the gap between the races. He demanded, without success, the resignations of the school chief and the police chief over various matters. He rushed to the cause of a parent who considered a school book racist and wanted it banned. The work, a legend about slavery that celebrated freedom, was defended by a Morgan State humanities professor.

"How people choose to fight the good fight is really a judgment call," said Dunbar Brooks, a school board member and leader of another NAACP chapter in Baltimore County. "His heart was in the right place and he was committed."

Nowhere in our suburbs do the races mix on so many levels -- especially in housing and schooling -- as in Baltimore County. The NAACP may find someone more adept at paperwork, but not someone with greater passion.

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