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Vernon ‘Tim’ Conway, active in the civil rights movement and city liquor inspector, dies

Vernon "Tim" Conway was a political activist who fought poverty and became chair of the Foresight Community Council.
Vernon "Tim" Conway was a political activist who fought poverty and became chair of the Foresight Community Council. (HANDOUT)

Vernon “Tim” Conway, a retired Baltimore City Liquor Board official who had been active in Baltimore’s early civil rights movement, died of complications of Parkinson’s disease Feb. 5 at Gilchrist Hospice Towson. The resident of the Shadyside section of Northwood was 78.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Gold Street off Pennsylvania Avenue, he was the son of Oliver Conway and Ethel Dunlap. He was one of 17 children.

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He was a member of Saint Peter Claver Catholic Church and attended Carver Vocational High Technical School. As a young man, he worked for the Schmidt Baking Co. in West Baltimore.

Mr. Conway became a political activist with other members of the Saint Peter Claver congregation, including his brother, Irving Conway. Mr. Conway was a founder of the Civic Interest Group in the mid-1960s. The group represented the area at Gold, Robert and Calhoun streets.

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“More than 40 inner city residents held the first of a series of weekly protest meetings last night,” a 1965 Sun article said. “They were tired of the rats in their living rooms.”

Mr. Conway, who chaired the protest meeting and spoke alongside Parren J. Mitchell, who later served in Congress, complained that landlords would repair only the exteriors of homes, but “the insides were as rotten as ever.”

Newspaper stories said Mr. Conway had meetings with then-Mayor Theodore R. McKeldin who praised the Civic Interest Group as “fine young people who want a decent neighborhood.”

Mr. Conway was given a city job with Operation Champ, a federally funded summer recreational program, and was later board chair of Citizens for Operation Champ.

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By 1967 he was speaking at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church about enlarging the role of the Civic Interest Group to promote “black power,” then a new term. The group’s leaders said it was following the lead of the Congress of Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

He also criticized police for singling out drug users for punishment.

“Narcotics addicts are voters and human beings,” he said in a 1967 Sun story.

Mr. Conway met his future wife, Joan Carter Conway, at the old Model Cities Agency, a federal anti-poverty program at its Argyle Avenue location. They married in 1981.

Mr. Conway was chair of the Foresight Community Council, a West Baltimore group that provided services to over 18,000 city residents in the areas of health, education, housing, economic development, recreation, public safety and justice, his wife said.

“Tim was a quiet leader. He was a thinker,” his wife said. "But if he was in his activist role, he could be vocal."

Vernon Conway in 1968 as a Baltimore civil rights leader.
Vernon Conway in 1968 as a Baltimore civil rights leader. (Baltimore Sun)

She said that politically he supported Mayor Thomas J. D’Alesandro III and worked with him to help put down the April 1968 riot. He also supported Mayor William Donald Schaefer.

“Tim was very engaged around lifting others out of poverty and adamant about improving the quality of life in inner-city neighborhoods,” she said. “He was keenly aware of discrimination and the negative effects of social and economic injustice.”

He worked with his brother Irvin to incorporate what was originally known as the Baltimore Soul Festival and is now known as AFRAM.

“Although he was quiet and soft-spoken, Tim was a naturally gifted leader who earned the respect of everyone who knew him,” his wife said.

Mr. Conway was later appointed to the Board of the Liquor License Commission and served for 20 years. He retired as the assistant chief of inspectors.

He also owned and operated a business, CIG Transportation.

A funeral was held Saturday at the March Life Tribute Center in Randallstown.

In addition to his wife of 39 years, a state senator, survivors include five daughters, Valerie Hudson, Rita Conway Jones, Linda Conway-Morris, Jacqueline Conway and Justine Conway: a son, Tim Conway; a stepson, Marvin O’Neal Carter; a brother, John N. Conway; nine grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren; and two great-great-grandchildren, all of the Baltimore area. A son, Vernon Conway, died in 2009. His brother, Irvin Conway, died in 1993.

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