Mamie B. Todd, the granddaughter of a slave who became an outspoken civil rights activist and social worker whose advocacy for children led to the founding of the state’s Child Protective Services Agency, died in her sleep April 8 at her Pacific Grove, California home. The former longtime Ashburton resident was 105.
“My grandmother was always impatient when it came to the humiliation and degradation of segregation, because she knew who she was descended from,” said her grandson, Benjamin Todd Jealous, who had been head of the NAACP from 2008 to 2013 and was the Democratic candidate for governor of Maryland in 2018. “She was a quiet humble power.”
The former Mamie Bland, daughter of Frederick Bland, owner of a 300-acre farm and a builder, and his wife, Bessie Ethel Wood Neale Todd, a teacher and a midwife, was born in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, and raised in Prince George County, Virginia.
Her grandfather, Edward David Bland, who became a lifelong inspiration, was born into slavery in 1848 in Virginia, and was later a member of the Virginia legislature during Reconstruction after the end of the Civil War.
“He led a multiracial populist movement that resulted in the founding of Virginia State University, expanded Virginia Tech,” and “helped secure the future of free public education for the children of the Commonwealth of Virginia,” according to a profile submitted by her daughter, Ann Frederica Todd Jealous, and her son, Mr. Jealous.
“He believed in what was possible,” Mr. Jealous said in a telephone interview. “A dream deferred will ultimately not be a dream not denied. It’s not if, but when.”
Mrs. Todd’s grandfather, Edward David Bland, was the first of his family to join the NAACP that was founded in 1909, with six generations following his example. He died in 1927.
“My grandmother was very much her grandfather’s granddaughter, and she carried all of this with her,” Mr. Jealous said.
Mrs. Todd was also inspired by her mother, Bessie Bland, a midwife and teacher who delivered babies, to pursue social justice.
“Because the births of Black children in the county were not recorded and because she looked white, she’d go to the courthouse and record their births,” said her daughter, referring to Mrs. Bland, in a telephone interview.
“No one bothered her because they thought she was just another white woman sitting in the corner,” said her daughter, a retired psychotherapist who lives in Pacific Grove.
“Her handwriting is on my birth certificate,” Mrs. Todd told The Monterey County Herald in a 2009 interview, referring to her mother.
She and her five siblings attended a one-room schoolhouse for “colored children,” which was the first in Prince George County, and on land that her grandfather had donated for the school. There she excelled in math and science and often was called upon to tutor the school’s student body of 19.
As a young girl, her father gave her a broken-down automobile and told her she could drive it once she got it running.
“When I was 14, my father bought me a Model A Ford,” Mrs. Todd explained in the newspaper interview. “I learned physics by taking that car apart, cleaning all the parts and putting it back together again.”
After a year’s work and receiving a special license from the county, she was able to drive herself and her siblings to school each day.
When it was time for high school, she moved to Petersburg, Virginia, where she lived with an aunt. The school was located on what was then Virginia State College, now Virginia State University, which she later attended and earned a bachelor’s degree with honors.
While attending college, she met and fell in love with a fellow student, Edward Jerome “Romie” Todd, whom she married in 1939.
After graduating from college, she taught algebra in a local public school, and in a 2009 interview with NPR’s “Story Corps,” was “outraged to find that they were expected to teach without the necessary books and supplies or even a chalkboard that retained chalk.”
“In her typically fearless style in the face of unfair adversity, she confronted the segregated school system’s superintendent and convinced him to deliver new supplies to her school,” wrote Mr. Jealous.
As part of the Great Migration, Mrs. Todd and her husband left Virginia in 1941 and settled into the McCulloh Homes, and later moved to Ashburton.
Her husband worked as a Pullman porter for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad while she took a job working for Planned Parenthood. She also babysat the children of civil rights activists Clarence Mitchell and Juanita Jackson Mitchell, who headed the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP.
Living in the North did not mean the end of racial discrimination, and because Mrs. Todd looked white and her husband was dark-skinned, that often meant unpleasant and humiliating inquiries, especially from the police.
“My father, a brown-skinned African American, would pick her up after work and take her to the park for a milkshake,” her daughter told the Monterey Herald in 2009. “Remember her coming home vividly upset in the 1940s because a policeman had checked her driver’s license. She looked very Anglo; and it was illegal in Baltimore for Blacks and whites to cohabitate, and they wanted to know if she was being molested by a Black man.”
“She’d show them her driver’s license that had a ‘C’ on it for colored,” her daughter said. “And then she’d tell them he was her husband. They’d come home and she was very angry and there was my father looking at the floor. He was so ashamed.”
Mrs. Todd took a job as a caseworker for the Baltimore City Department of Welfare where she worked tirelessly as an advocate for children. She witnessed what she called the ”great suffering,” which inspired her dedication to eradicate racial and social oppression.
She participated in marches through the slums of Baltimore and traveled to Washington to lobby Congress not to fund high-rise projects, which she thought would become ghettos.
In 1952, she urged her daughter to join other young NAACP activists and become a plaintive in the lawsuit that eventually desegregated Western High School in 1958. Mrs. Jealous became the first Black news editor of Western’s newspaper and one of its first African American graduates.
Mrs. Todd decided she wanted to earn a master’s degree in social work, but because Black people were prohibited from attending graduate school in Maryland, they were sent out of state at taxpayers’ expense to other colleges and universities.
In 1953, she obtained her master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and soon launched a ”crusade to stop the exploitation and abuse of Baltimore’s most vulnerable children,” Mr. Jealous wrote.
Her work resulted in the establishment of the state Department of Child Protective Services. “Her goal was to both to ensure that suspected child abusers be investigated by qualified professionals to make sure that abused children received therapeutic treatment,” according to the profile.
Mrs. Todd also played a significant role in the effort that made Maryland one of the first states to establish an undergraduate degree in social work at public universities.
Because there were so few Black women executives in state agencies, the governor gave Mrs. Todd a designated parking place with her name so her car wouldn’t be towed, her grandson said.
Mrs. Todd was a huge influence on such young social workers, including Barbara A. Mikulski, who later would become a U.S. senator from Maryland, and who recently called her mentor a “national legend in child protection.”
After her husband, who was a college graduate, left the railroad, he attended the University of Maryland School of Law, though he was unable to finish due to racism and job and family demands. He had a long career with the state Department of Juvenile Services.
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After the couple retired in 1982, they moved from Dennlyn Road in Ashburton to their summer home in Cape May, New Jersey, and following her husband’s death in 2006, Mrs. Todd moved to Pacific Grove, where she lived independently at Canterbury Woods Retirement Home. She busied herself with Canterbury Woods as a volunteer, played bridge, and enjoyed spending time with family and friends.
When in Baltimore, she was a communicant of St. James Episcopal Church, and in 1958, with eight other women, established The Pierians, a group dedicated to the study, promotion, and enjoyment of the arts. The organization expanded with chapters in several states.
In 2018, she received the President’s Award from the Monterey County Branch of the NAACP for a lifetime of civil rights activism and commitment.
“She had a passion for making things better. It’s our family DNA. We want to make things better,” her daughter said.
Plans for a celebration-of-life gathering to be held August 6 in Pacific Grove are incomplete.
In addition to her daughter and grandson, Mrs. Todd is survived by a granddaughter; and three great-grandchildren.
This story has been updated. A previous version of this story had a quote that incorrectly implied who recorded the births of Black children, and misstated Edward Jerome Todd’s higher education career and where Mamie Todd volunteered. The Baltimore Sun Regrets the errors.