Carroll County NAACP revived Organizers say area has racist climate; 20 members enroll


A small group of African-Americans is reviving a branch of the NAACP that died for lack of interest five years ago in Carroll County, which is 97 percent white.

Those behind the effort say they feel that the presence of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is needed to dispel what they see as a racist climate in the county.

The group began to mobilize last year after Carroll was the only county in the metropolitan area to reject "Call to Community," an effort to combat racism. County Commissioner Richard T. Yates said at the time, "If Baltimore City dies, it dies. Maybe we will dig it up and make farmland out of it. Why should we bail Baltimore out or be drawn into its problems? We have no race relations problems here. Why instigate them?"

Last night, the fledgling chapter appointed a steering committee, with Thelma P. Smith as chairwoman. Smith is a teacher from Eldersburg who is running for a seat on the Carroll County school board.

"This is a racist county and we have all got to speak up," Smith said.

To become a permanent chapter, the group needs 50 dues-paying members, according to the national NAACP, which is based in Baltimore. It enrolled about 20 members last night, including the Rev. Cordell Hunter, NAACP state regional chairman, who promised to help the branch get on its feet.

Mark Clack, national director of branches and field operations for the NAACP, said that as Carroll County continues to grow, it will need watchdog groups to ensure fair access to services, education and jobs.

But some African-American residents wonder if the newly revived branch will attract the vigorous leadership it needs to succeed. And others were concerned about the angry tone of the first organizational meeting.

"A general lack of interest and complacency led to the end of the chapter several years ago," said Nelson Dorsey, a former member.

The Rev. Brian Jackson, pastor of St. Luke United Methodist Church in Sykesville, characterized the first meeting, at which participants recounted instances of discrimination, as "aggressive and angry."

"The timing is perfect for the NAACP's programs here," said Jackson. "But you cannot build on those emotions."

But the Rev. Robert Walker, pastor of Union Street United Methodist Church, said that anger is the reason the county needs the NAACP.

"There is anger in the black community about not being treated fairly," Walker said. "But I hope it can be tempered with the common sense needed to make this work well."

Herbert H. Lindsey, Maryland state conference president for the NAACP, welcomed the effort to restart the Carroll branch. National officials want a presence in every jurisdiction, he said.

"You have NAACP leaders in Carroll County," he said. "They just need to be re-energized."

The Rev. Mary D. Carter-Cross resurrected the group twice and built membership to about 200 during several years as its president. But, she said, she could not keep the branch going with the small core of active participants. She resigned in 1993.

"The minority of African-Americans in Carroll County are not interested in working together," she said. "Nobody wanted to do the real work. They only come together when they have a problem."

Carter-Cross moved from the county about four years ago, but the frequent calls she gets from Carroll residents dealing with racial issues show a need for an NAACP presence, she said.

"There are a lot of racial concerns, especially from those who recently moved to the county," she said.

About 10 years ago, the local NAACP was active in finding jobs, housing and educational opportunities, said Dorsey.

"We were successful to a certain degree, really reaching out to local businesses and elected officials," he said. But a good economy and the availability of jobs diminished activism, he said.

"In this age of opportunity, young people especially are shying away from anything that has a racial connotation; they would really rather not be part of it," Dorsey said. "The new generation may not feel comfortable belonging."

James Joyce, a Westminster High School senior, may belie that statement. He delivered a dozen names to branch membership organizers last night and promised to support the effort.

While Carroll has occasional Ku Klux Klan activity, Dorsey said the county is "unfairly stigmatized" for having more racial problems than actually exist.

Pub Date: 5/06/98

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