Quanta L. Pierce, Baltimore social worker in foster care division and civil rights activist, dies

Quanta L. Pierce enjoyed playing the flute, cooking and entertaining.

Quanta L. Pierce, who had a lengthy career in the foster care division of the Baltimore City Department of Social Services and was a civil rights activist, died of Alzheimer’s disease July 22 at Ascension Saint Agnes Hospital. The Randallstown resident was 88.

Quanta Lake Smith, daughter of the Rev. James D. Smith, a Baptist minister, and Cornelia Lake Smith, a police officer, was born in Newark, New Jersey.


After her parents divorced, mother and daughter moved to Baltimore and settled into a home at 1517 Fulton Avenue, and later moved to the 2100 block of Ellamount Street.

Her mother then married James M. Smith, who was a member of the Rust College faculty in Holly Springs, Mississippi.


In 1948, her mother became the third Black police officer appointed to the Baltimore City Police Department by then-Commissioner Hamilton R. Atkinson.

“We grew up together and didn’t live far from one another,” Laura Phillips Byrd, who attended college with her, said.

“She was sweet as a pea and had the best smile that just radiated. She never said anything bad about anyone,” Mrs. Byrd said. “She was one of God’s people with a pure heart and was such a loving person.”

Mrs. Pierce, a 1960 graduate of Frederick Douglass High School, earned a bachelor’s degree in 1964 in sociology from what is today Morgan State University and a master’s degree in social work in 1967 from Howard University.

Mrs. Pierce’s roommate during her undergraduate years at Morgan was Delois Crosse.

“We were roommates from our freshman year and all through college, and we’ve stayed friends for more than 60 years,” Mrs. Crosse said.

A long simmering dispute about integrating of the old Northwood Movie Theater at the Northwood Shopping Center, following the desegregation of Read’s Drug Store lunch counters, was taking place when Mrs. Pierce arrived on campus.

By February 1963, other shopping center businesses, including the Hecht-May Co. rooftop cafe and the Arundel ice cream store, welcomed African Americans while the theater steadfastly refused to admit them.


Morgan students, including Mrs. Pierce and Mrs. Crosse, began demonstrating at the shopping center and were joined by students from nearby universities, with more than 100 arrested.

“We marched and it was a big deal. Quanta was a strong advocate and believed in the cause,” Mrs. Crosse remembered.

“We did what we could even though we were students and somewhat limited in what we could do, but she was very vocal and stood her ground,” she said. “She was devoted to any cause she believed in.”

Both women were on the National Mall that summer attending the March on Washington and heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech, Mrs. Crosse said.

Mrs. Pierce began her career in 1966 in the children’s division of what was then the Department of Public Welfare — now the Department of Human Services — where she met and fell in love with her future husband, Dr. Jack R.M. Pierce Sr., who she married in 1967.

“She was working with kids who were foster children and those who had been neglected or needed supervision. She had a passion for the work and made an impact on those children that was simply remarkable,” Dr. Pierce, who retired as director in 2013 from the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training Inc., said.


“My wife never met anyone she didn’t like. She was always welcoming. She could reach out to people and interact with them,” he said. “She was special to everybody.”

“She was committed to protecting those children,” Mrs. Crosse said. “She dedicated her life to them and was a genuinely devoted civil servant.”

After 25 years of working in the agency’s foster care division, Mrs. Pierce retired and in 1990 went to the Kennedy Krieger Institute as director of its outreach program, where she developed a school-based program for five elementary schools.

Among her favorites, family members said, were Harlem Park and Matthew Henson elementary schools.

“It was a school-based program and she supervised the staff and the work while working with the children in the program,” her husband said.

She retired for a second time in 2006.


Mrs. Pierce was an active lifelong member of Metropolitan United Methodist Church, where for more than 50 years she served in various capacities and was active in Bible study groups.

In 2011, Mrs. Pierce and her husband traveled to Senegal with a travel group with medical supplies, clothes and electronics for the people.

“Of all the traveling we did through the years, Africa was the place Quanta always talked about and Senegal was her favorite place,” Dr. Pierce said.

Mrs. Pierce enjoyed playing the flute, cooking and entertaining.

The Morning Sun


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“She was a family person and the glue that brought us all together. She loved family dinners,” her daughter, Kimberly Noel, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, said.

“She had a smile that would light up a room,” said a granddaughter, Kenya L. McGrath, who was cared for by her grandmother during the day while her parents attended college. “But she was headstrong and she definitely had her sassiness.”


When dining out in restaurants, Mrs. Pierce instructed her grandchildren in how to comport themselves properly.

“She taught us dining etiquette, what pieces of silver to use, and to put our napkins in our laps. She wanted us to always present ourselves well,” Ms. McGrath said.

“We are godparents to each other’s children. That bond and friendship continued into the fall season of our lives,” Mrs. Crosse said. “At Quanta’s funeral, I read from Proverb 17. ‘A friend loveth at all times.’”

A funeral service was held at her church Aug. 12.

In addition to her husband, daughter and granddaughter, Mrs. Pierce is survived by two sons, Jack R.M. Pierce Jr. of Randallstown and James Pierce of Ellicott City; five grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.