Category Archives: Baltimore County

Negro Leagues Museum Opens in Owings Mills

From the Community Times

By Barry Rascovar

April 2, 2014–SOMETIMES POLITICIANS ATTEND events they really enjoy.

It surely looked as though this was the case last Thursday for Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz as he cut the ribbon for a permanent exhibit honoring Negro League baseball.

Hubert Simmons Museum of Negro Leagues Baseball

Hubert Simmons Museum of Negro Leagues Baseball

The exhibit is a reminder of this nation’s shameful past. The National Association of Baseball Players banned interracial play in 1867. Nothing changed for 80 years.

The Hubert V. Simmons Museum of Negro Leagues Baseball conveys the importance of the courage of Negro League ballplayers who laid the groundwork for today’s integrated American pastime.

Spread out over three floors of the Owings Mills building that houses the newest branches of the public library and the Community College of Baltimore County, the Simmons museum is an eye-opener.

Thanks to Kamenetz’s perseverance, Baltimore County has a unique exhibit that tells a story everyone should know.

Segregated Baseball

Until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, non-white baseball players had to show off their skills in “a league of their own.”

They performed on miserable fields, were paid low wages, were subjected to hostility from whites and had to navigate around segregation-era Jim Crow laws.

They did it “for the love of the game.”

Museum of Negro Leagues Baseball

Museum of Negro Leagues Baseball, Owings Mills

Maryland hosted two Negro League teams, the Baltimore Elite (pronounced “E-light”) Giants and the Baltimore Black Sox.

The Black Sox started playing in Baltimore in 1916. In 1927, the barnstormers won 70 percent of their games.

The hometown Giants ruled the roost here from 1938 to 1950.

The team provided a launching pad for baseball stars Roy Campanella, Junior Gilliam, Joe Black and Leon Day – as well as a pretty good pitcher-outfielder, Bert Simmons.

Traveling Exhibit

After Simmons retired, he taught in the city school system for 30 years while coaching Little League, high school, American Legion and college baseball for 40 years.

His burning desire was to build a museum highlighting the Negro Leagues’ players and their struggles and triumphs. This led to traveling exhibits and a display in a Lochearn church basement.

Bert Simmons died two months after the church display opened. His cause was taken up by his widow and Ray Banks, a longtime friend and troubadour for the Negro Leagues.

When their paths crossed with Kamenetz, the politician’s creative mind started seeing possibilities.

Eventually, he persuaded the County Council to approve $125,000 to create a permanent home for this memorabilia and erect display panels, showcases, pictures and biographies of Negro League greats – from Satchel Paige to Josh Gibson.

Satchel Paige (L) and Josh Gibson (R)

Satchel Paige (L) and Josh Gibson (R)

The Owings Mills multi-purpose building proved ideal: it sits astride the Red Line transit terminus, across the street from a large residential development, draws thousands of people to the library and community college and is an education mecca for the community.

“Bert loved the game,” said his widow, Audrey Simmons. He also was “devoted to education,” she added. The county’s museum is the perfect place “where the story can be told.”

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Baltimore County’s Housing Exclusion Continues

By Barry Rascovar

Nov. 25, 2013 — No one with a sense of history should be surprised by Baltimore County Council’s unanimous rejection of a $13.7 million housing development for low-income families in Rosedale on the county’s eastside.

The county has a long record of strongly opposing housing assistance for families with low or moderate incomes.

Indeed, any politician who ignores the hyper-sensitivity of county voters to keeping the jurisdiction safe for “folks like us” risks defeat.

Map of Baltimore County

Map of Baltimore County

Even the County Council’s lone African American, Ken Oliver, ran for cover last week. He abstained. Oliver voiced heated objections at the council’s private work session but not at the public meeting.

This shameful exclusionary trend — woefully out of step with demographics — isn’t new.

A History Lesson

Nearly 50 years ago, Baltimore County politicians railed against open housing.

When Baltimore Mayor Theodore R. McKeldin invited Baltimore County Executive Spiro T. Agnew in 1964 to work out a metropolitan wide approach to open occupancy laws — hardly a revolutionary request — Agnew rejected the offer for fear of negative voter response.

County Executive Spiro Agnew

Spiro T. Agnew

Open housing laws, Agnew said, “invade the rights of property guaranteed by our federal constitution.”

Fear of change, and especially fear that poor blacks would destabilize neighborhoods, struck an ugly chord with county residents, especially on the conservative, lower-middle class eastside.

As a “progressive” county executive, Agnew did propose a $27 million urban renewal bond issue for deteriorating parts of Towson and Catonsville.

Foes, though, saw it as a plot to bring public housing, and poor city blacks, to the county.

On election day, voters rejected the bond issue by a 3-2 margin.

‘Malicious, Socialistic’

A month later, the County Council rebuffed Agnew’s request to launch a study of blight in the county.

In early 1965, he proposed a local slum clearance program. Within weeks, the County Council killed it.

The atmosphere among opponents was super-charged. They called Agnew’s plans a “malicious, socialistic cancer.”

County resistance to integrated housing accounted for perennial candidate George P. Mahoney’s surprise victory in the 1966 Democratic race for governor. Mahoney ran on the openly racist slogan, “Your home is your castle — protect it.”

Conservative Mahoney beat liberal Congressman Carlton Sickles by a mere 1,939 votes. He won the election in Baltimore County, where he ran up a huge 19,495-vote lead over Sickles (42 percent to 21 percent).

That paved the way for the more “liberal” Agnew’s election as governor.

The Anderson Years

His successor in Towson, Dale Anderson, had a well deserved reputation for opposing integration and affordable housing. He and his cohorts fed voter fears.

Dale Anderson

Dale Anderson

Here’s an example: At a 1970 meeting in Rosedale, with a smiling Anderson in attendance, Councilman Wallace Williams said, “Dale Anderson and the rest of the team will continue to fight hard to stop any major government-subsidized programs with strings attached from coming to Baltimore County.”

Then Williams added in his southern drawl, “And you know what I mean. You know what I mean.”

Indeed the cheering crowd did.

In November 1970, Baltimore County voters rejected by better than 2-1 a state referendum setting up a Community Development Administration. Anything that hinted at public housing met staunch resistance.

Venetoulis’ Reform Efforts

Reform county executive Ted Venetoulis tried in 1975 to improve the housing situation with $40 million in federal funds. But the County Council and the county’s delegation in Annapolis vetoed that effort.

Next, Venetoulis put forth an urban renewal grant proposal. It met the same fate.

Baltimore County didn’t even have a housing agency until 1987. Three years later, a $2.5 million county bond issue for housing programs lost again on election day, the only bond question (out of 10) to go down to defeat in 1990.

Want more? In 1994, hysteria erupted on the eastside over fears thousands of public housing residents would flood Dundalk, Essex and Middle River under an experimental federal housing program called Moving to Opportunity.

Foes claimed 18,000 poor blacks were coming when, in fact, no more than 40 per year would have been scattered throughout the county under the voucher program.

Fierce voter opposition convinced politicians such as County Executive Roger Hayden and Congresswoman Helen D. Bentley to run for the hills.

That included liberal Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who killed the federal MTO funds earmarked for Baltimore. It was not her finest moment.

Housing Exclusion Persists

The new century didn’t change attitudes in Baltimore County.

In 2000, 70 percent of county voters voiced strong outrage over County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger’s carefully worked-out renewal plans for Dundalk, Essex, Middle River and Randallstown.

Clearly, housing issues remain Baltimore County’s bugaboo.

So it is not surprising Councilwoman Cathy Bevins hid behind “councilmanic courtesy” to bury the latest affordable housing plan from a nonprofit group. Nor is it shocking the other council members, including Oliver, let her get away with it.

No one had the courage to say, “This is wrong. We’ve got to address our county’s lack of housing for low and lower-middle income people.”

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz tried to play diplomat, noting his “regret” at “the tenor” of the council’s action. It “sent the wrong message,” he said.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz

His efforts to bring sensible and needed affordable housing to the county won’t be easy.

A New Baltimore County

Back in Ted Agnew’s days as county executive, African Americans made up roughly 3 percent of  the subdivision’s population.

Today, blacks constitute 27 percent of county residents and many of them need better housing options.

The times, they are a-changin’,

At some point Baltimore Countians, however grudgingly, will have to recognize this reality.

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Baltimore County’s Changing Of The Guard

BY BARRY RASCOVAR / July 25, 2012

(A version of this article ran in the Carroll County Times online on July 24)  

You’d think every 50 years or so it would be nice to change faces in Annapolis.

Well, it will be 52 years before Dundalk’s favorite political son, Sen. Norman Stone, finishes his 13th term representing Baltimore County and departs the State House for the last time.

The changing of the guard in Baltimore County is led by Sen. Norman Stone, retiring after 52 years.

Stone will be missed. He was a dependable vote for Senate President Mike Miller and Democratic governors, a rock of support for organized labor and one of the few remaining conservatives in the Democratic caucus who acted as a counter-weight to the group’s liberal majority.

Baltimore County is losing many of its other right-of-center legislators next year, too.

On the west side of the county, Delegates Jimmy Malone and Steve De Boy of Catonsville-Arbutus have announced their intentions to retire as has Emmett Burns of Woodlawn-Randallstown.

Both Malone and De Boy have grown in stature over the years. They are constructive, hard-working lawmakers who have not forgotten their blue-collar roots. They are liberal on some social issues but conservative on fiscal and other matters.

Malone, a retired firefighter, is vice-chairman of the House Environmental Matters Committee and a voice for moderation in leadership ranks. De Boy, a retired police officer, sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee where he has voted for sensible budget reductions that do minimal harm to people in need.

MORE WESTSIDE DEPARTURES

Burns, too, has cast some conservative votes, especially on gay rights and immigration issues that the ordained minister fiercely and loudly opposed.

Also in that part of the county, Del. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam of Woodlawn-Randallstown has decided to give up her seat to challenge incumbent Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell of Baltimore City in a re-drawn district that is two-thirds in the county and just one-third in the city. This should give Nathan-Pulliam, who has represented the county portions of the new district for 20 years, a strong advantage.

Moving to the northwest section of Baltimore County, Del. John Cardin of Owings Mills-Reisterstown is running for Maryland attorney general, creating an open seat in the June 2014 primary. Jon Cardin’s hopes may rest on voters’ fondness for his uncle, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, a fixture in Maryland elections since 1966.

Another State House departure will be north-county Del. A. Wade Kach, a quiet, studious conservative Republican first elected in 1974. Redistricting forced his hand. He’s leaving Annapolis to run against County Councilman Todd Huff, whose term in the Council has been marred by a drunk driving conviction and his attempts to use his position to avoid the consequences.

EASTSIDE CHANGES

Over on the eastern end of Baltimore County, Del. John Olszewski Jr., whose father-namesake sits on the County Council, is leaving the House of Delegates to run for Stone’s Senate seat. He has Stone’s endorsement and is the odds-on favorite.

Baltimore County's changing of the guard in Annapolis includes the departure of Sen. Norman Stone and his likely replacement by Del. John Olszewski Jr.

Olszewksi, 31, would be quite different in the Senate from the 78-year-old Stone. Yet both are reflections of their historic steel-town community.

Stone is a throwback to a bygone era. He got his start in 1962 when he was asked to run for the House by Michael “Iron Mike” Birmingham, the eastside boss who became Baltimore County Executive after voters approved home rule.

Stone served a single term in the House and an extraordinary 12 terms in the Senate. Ever-friendly, gracious and polite, Norman Stone is an ardent backer of labor unions. His votes reflect the cautious nature of his district’s older residents.

Olszewski also votes in line with his district’s residents most of time. But he comes from a “green” generation that is dedicated to environmental causes. In the last General Assembly session, the League of Conservation Voters gave Olszewski a 71 percent rating versus Stone’s 40 percent.

The departure of so much seniority in Annapolis will make it more difficult for County Executive Kevin Kamenetz to leverage the next administration for local aid and assistance on important county projects.

While new legislative faces in the county’s state delegation may bring added enthusiasm and eagerness, this won’t make up for the loss of decades of experience in navigating the tricky twists and turns of political Annapolis.

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