400 gather to remember rights leader Community activists honored for service at King dinner; Judge Bell is speaker; Annual event brings together 'all walks of life,' organizer says


More than 400 people, including politicians, business people and lawyers, gathered in Annapolis last night to remember Martin Luther King Jr. on his birthday and recognize those who carry on the slain civil rights leader's legacy.

It was more than a ceremonial exercise.

Like King's message of peace and equality for all people, the annual dinner brings together people from many different backgrounds for a common purpose, said organizer Tony Spencer, a lieutenant with the Annapolis Fire Department and Fire Marshal's Office.

"You have people from all walks of life that have contributed to the community," Spencer said. "You have grass-roots organizations, and you might have people with their Ph.D's."

Robert Eades, 40, owner of an Annapolis cab company, brought his sons, James, 12, and Tavon, 13, along with other family members and friends, to the dinner.

"It's very important that they know their heritage and their culture and know what Martin Luther King actually stood for," Eades said.

He presented the Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Maker Award to Joseph "Zastrow" Simms, a community activist credited with preventing rioting in Annapolis when King was assassinated in 1968.

Another honoree, Willie L. Nixon, one of four to receive the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Major Award, started a bus service in the 1970s as a widow to support herself and five children. Now 76, the Freetown resident drives and repairs her fleet of buses and motor coaches with her children. She asked the audience to "pray that I will continue to be able to help other people's children, because all of mine are grown."

The honorees were recognized for their community work at the dinner at Buddy's Late Night on Hudson Street. The event raises money for local organizations, including the NAACP.

Keynote speaker Robert M. Bell, who was appointed chief judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals in October, is the embodiment of what King spoke of in his 1963 "I Have A Dream" speech, said Annapolis Alderman Carl O. Snowden. Bell is the first African-American to be appointed Maryland's highest-ranking judge.

"Here is a man who in the 1960s sat in to protest racial discrimination as a teen-ager," said Snowden, who has helped organize the awards dinner since 1989. "Now, some 30 years later, he sits on the highest court in Maryland as the chief judge."

But to Bell, King's dream is far from fulfilled.

"His legacy is like a 'Tale of Two Cities,' the best of times and the worst of times," Bell said. "There has been a lot of progress, and some people have made it big. On the other hand, there is the underclass. Some call it the permanent underclass. For those people that have not realized the dream, it is the worst of times."

Bell said he had never heard of King when he was arrested at age 16 for his part in a 1960 sit-in at Hooper's Restaurant in Baltimore, but looking back, he said, King's influence is unmistakable.

Other drum major awards were given to Angela Graham Haste, organizer of Neighborhood Watch in her Annapolis community; Sheryl E. Banks, former chairwoman of the Black Political Forum of Anne Arundel County and a candidate for 5th Ward alderman; and Gerald Stansbury, president of the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Two other Annapolis residents were recognized:

George Phelps Jr., an Annapolis businessman and the first black deputy sheriff in the county, received the Morris H. Blum Humanitarian Award for his service to the community.

Beth Southern Eubanks, former minority recruiting and retention coordinator at Anne Arundel Community College, received the Zeitgeist Award for her work in education and community service.

Candace Thomson, editor of the Anne Arundel edition of The Sun, received the Martin Luther King Jr. Dream Keeper Award for leadership in the newspaper's coverage of the black community.

Pub Date: 1/16/97

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